According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Biologos: Pre-Modern Readings of Genesis 1, Parts 1-3

 
October 9, 2012
 
"The BioLogos Forum" is pleased to feature essays from various guest voices in the science-and-religion dialogue. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.
 
Pre-Modern Readings of Genesis 1, Part 1Today's entry was written by Sujin Pak. The daughter of missionaries to South Korea, G. Sujin Pak is Assistant Research Professor of the History of Christianity and Associate Dean for Academic Programs at Duke Divinity school, where she specializes in the history of Christianity in late medieval and early modern Europe and the history of biblical interpretation during the Reformation era.
 
Her teaching focuses on the theology of the Protestant reformers, the Protestant Reformation and the Jews, women and the Reformation, and the history of biblical interpretation. In her research, as well, she gives particular attention to the role of biblical exegesis in the history of Christian-Jewish relations. Her book The Judaizing Calvin: Sixteenth-Century Debates over the Messianic Psalms was published by Oxford University Press in 2009.
 
Many people assume that until Darwin came along, devout Christians everywhere read and understood Genesis in the same way. But Dr. Pak points out that some of the most revered figures in Christian history--Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin--offered insightful but distinctive interpretations of the text that are often overlooked today.
 
First presented at a symposiumin Raleigh, NC, Dr. Pak's paper is presented here as a three part series.
 
 
Part 1
Introduction
 
To say, “I believe in the Church” is to embrace and live into a reality that precedes us, encompasses us, and continues beyond us. Indeed, if we are to truly be the Church in the present, I believe that it is incumbent on us to listen to those who have gone before us, and recognize that our own “here and now” is not the whole of the Christian story. Moreover, paying attention to the voices in the history of the Church can reveal to us our own contemporary blindfolds and assumptions, and might even enable us to approach Scripture with fresh eyes.
 
As a case in point, over the next three posts I’d like to walk us through a number of what I call “pre-modern” church fathers’ readings of Genesis 1 so that we might hear how Christians have read this text across the last 1600 years. For, while exploring the history of interpretation of any biblical text can teach us several important things, the biblical account of creation in Genesis 1 is a particularly instructive case.
 
Many, many Christian readers interpreted Genesis 1 during the early, medieval and Reformation eras of the church, but my survey focuses on the accounts given by Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. Every one of these church fathers held to at least two strong, shared assumptions: first and foremost, they all believed Scripture is the inspired Word of God—an infallible revelation given by God to reveal God and God’s truths for the church. I will return to this point later to show that what these readers meant by “infallible” is not necessarily the same as what many modern readers mean today, but the fathers’ firm conviction in the absolute trustworthiness of the biblical text is something contemporary evangelicals have in common with our predecessors in the faith. Secondly, they all asserted that any good reading of Scripture has the ultimate goal of edifying the Church. A faithful reading is performed in, with and for the Church, for the Church’s strengthening and/or repentance.
 
Beyond these two essential points about the text itself, all five of these church fathers focused upon several shared theological teachings in their readings of Genesis 1:
 
  • First, the world is created. In other words, the world is not eternal; it has a beginning and an end.
  • Second, God created the world.
  • Third, God created the world from nothing. This is the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo.
  • Fourth, the Creator is also Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
 
The first three of these beliefs—the world is created, God created the world, and God created the world from nothing—set up a clear distinction between God the Creator and created creatures who depend upon God for their creation—that is, the supreme distinction between Creator and creature. This distinction is necessary to demonstrate that only God is God; there is no other God. There is no room for the world or anything else to claim existence outside of or beyond God. God is the beginning of all existence.
 
Finally, the church fathers’ agreement that Genesis 1 teaches us about God’s Trinitarian nature of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit gives us a sense of the complete and self-sufficient yet still relational quality of the Creator. In sum, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin agreed that the account of creation in Genesis 1 tells us in some kind of literal way how the world came to exist, but equally that Gen 1 is intended to teach us these key theological truths.
 
An infinite source of wisdom
 
One of the key issues debated amongst these early readers of Genesis 1 was a question of methodology: how should one read the text? The pre-modern Church held firmly to the belief of both the divine inspiration of Scripture and Scripture as an infinite source of God’s wisdom, revelation and teaching. This meant that the pre-modern Church believed that there was not just one singular correct meaning of a biblical text, but that there were many possible faithful readings of any given text.
 
Such an assertion involved the belief that since God is infinite, so also is God’s Word infinite. To assume that there is only one singular correct meaning of Scripture is in essence to “box God in” or offend the absolute sovereignty of God—namely, limiting what God may teach or say through God’s own very Word.
 
Hence, from very early on in the Church’s history, the church held that Scripture has literal and spiritual meanings. The late-2nd / early 3rd-century church father Origen, for one, was a keen proponent of the spiritual reading of Scripture. He maintained that Genesis 1 has both a literal meaning and a spiritual or allegorical meaning. He wrote, “There is certainly no question about the literal meaning, for these things are clearly said to have been created by God,” but then he continued, “but it is also profitable to relate this text in a spiritual sense.”1
 
The spiritual meaning of the text, according to Origen, is that the creation account is not simply about how the world was created, but it also sets forth the Christian’s journey in faith from infancy to maturity. Or, put another way, the days of creation are an illustration of the ethical journey of Christians toward righteousness. Thus according to Origen, for example, the separation of waters from the dry land (in verse 9) points to the call for the Christian to seek heavenly things rather than earthly things.2 Though they may be literally the creation of the sun, moon and stars, the lights in verse 14’s “Let there be lights” spiritually signify Christ and his Church—Christ who is the “light of the world” and the church who has been called to reflect this light into the world (John 8:12).3 Hence, though Origen affirmed the literal reading of this text as teaching that God created the world, the weight of his focus fell upon reading Genesis 1 as a road map for the Christian’s journey in righteousness towards becoming more Christ-like.
 
The renowned late 4th/early 5th-century church father Augustine also believed in reading Genesis both literally and spiritually, though he placed more emphasis on the literal reading than did Origen. Augustine commented on Genesis 1 several times, including Against the Manichees and A Literal Interpretation of Genesis. In the both of these accounts, his primary intention was to set forth that the world is created by God out of nothing—hence light vs. dark or good vs. evil cannot be rightly believed to be dualistic entities. In fact, God is the only Supreme Being, and God created everything else out of nothing—not out of God’s self (which leads to pantheism or pan-entheism), nor out of something else existing alongside God (which would lead to dualism or the belief that there are two or more equal entities that can claim to be gods). All of these theological teachings were set forth to deliberately counter the heretical teachings of the Manicheans in Augustine’s day. Hence, one might argue that Augustine’s “literal” reading of Genesis was very much focused upon certain theological teachings of Genesis 1.4
 
But Augustine did not stop there. He also provided a number of ways in which the literal words of Genesis 1 may point to a spiritual meaning. For example, Augustine writes that the 7 days of creation represent the 7 ages of the world. Moreover, Augustine—much like Origen—also read the 7 days of creation in terms of the Christian’s spiritual journey in faith. Thus, Day 1 is the light of faith, day 2 is a time of learning and discernment; day 3 is the separation of heavenly and earthly things; day 4 is development in spiritual knowledge; day 5 involves good works; day 6 is being made in the image of God to gain mastery over carnal desires, and day 7 is a day of perpetual rest.5
 
Key theologians of the early church (such as Origen and Augustine, as we’ve discussed) read Scripture with multiple senses and meanings—with a literal sense and multiple spiritual senses. However, not all fully agreed with this methodology. Though most all would certainly hold to multiple senses of Scripture, some readers insisted upon a more profound attention to the literal sense, and the use of the literal sense to help restrain or hold in check the possible spiritual readings. Such 3rd- and 4th-century Church fathers, as St. Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and Theodore of Mopsuestia insisted upon a much more restrained literal reading of Genesis 1.6
 
Yet even those who insist upon a more literal—or more historical—interpretation of Genesis 1 still contended that the primary purpose of any reading was to edify the Church, which entails setting forth the key theological teachings of Genesis 1, rather than focus on the material specifics. Again, such teachings include that the world is created, that God create the world out of nothing, and that the creation account demonstrates the great order and harmony of creation as a testimony of the God’s glory, beauty, and goodness.7
 
More than one thousand years later, 16th-century Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin strongly argued for a literal reading of Genesis 1 over and against an allegorical one. Luther wrote, “God’s purpose is to teach us not about allegorical creatures and an allegorical world, but about real creatures and a visible world apprehended by the senses.”8 Calvin maintained, “For to my mind this is a certain principle, that what is here treated is the visible form of the world.”9
 
Yet Luther and Calvin also insisted that the central purpose of Genesis 1 is to set forth the theological teachings that the world is created, that God created the world out of nothing, and that creation demonstrates God’s providence, divine purpose, goodness and benevolence.10 While these historical readers do not all agree on whether Genesis 1 should be read allegorically, what becomes crystal clear is that for all of these interpreters, in one way or another, a “literal” reading of Genesis 1 retains as its focus the theological teachings of the text. In our next installment, we’ll look briefly at some of the difficulties our expositors perceived in Genesis 1 when they did attempt to read it literally.
 
Notes
 
1. Origen, Homilies on Genesis, 60.
2. Origen, 49, 50.
3. Origen, 53-55.
4. Augustine, Against the Manichees, 57, 58 and Genesi ad litteram, 145-46.
5. Augustine, Against the Manichees, 83-88, 89-90. The seven ages are the following: Day 1 = the infancy of the world that stretched from Adam to Noah; Day 2 = childhood, stretching from Noah to Abraham; Day 3 = adolescence, encompassing the biblical history from Abraham to David; Day 4 = the age of youth, from David to the Babylonian captivity; Day 5 = youth to old age, stretching from the Babylonian Exile to the first advent of Christ; Day 6 = old age, the coming of Christ until the 2nd coming; and Day 7 = on the even and including the 2nd coming of Christ.
6. St. Basil the Great, Hexameron 9.1.
7. Ibid, 7.6, 1.7-9, 1.2-4.
8. LW 1:5.
9. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 79.
10. LW 1:3, 4, 10, 18, 36, 39, 47, 49. Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 70, 89, 80-82, 88.
 
 
Part 2
Perceived Difficulties in Text
 
Even for our Church fathers, sticking to a more literal reading of Genesis 1 presented a number of difficulties that needed to be addressed. Rather than give an exhaustive account, I will focus upon only three of these perceived difficulties:
  • What is meant by “day” in verse 5, when the sun and moon were not created until verse 14?
  • How was there “light” in verse 3, when the sun, moon and stars were not yet created until verse 14?
  • What does it mean for humanity to be created in the image of God?
Of course there were many other questions that our interpreters asked of this text, but these are some of the most prominent.
 
“Day”
 
A first perceived difficulty in taking the Genesis account literally was the question of how one should understand the actual days of creation. Were they regular solar days of 24-hours? If so, how, since the sun was not yet created until later in verse 14? Or, is “day” to be understood in some other way? There were some interpreters, such as the 2nd-century theologians Justin Martyr (100-65 CE) and Irenaeus (125?-202 CE) who suggested that “day” might be interpreted in light of 2 Pet 3:8, which states that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.”1
 
Origen, on the other hand, argued that certainly the first 3 days of creation—the days before the sun was created—were not literal, solar days, and only the last 3 days could possibly be solar days.2 Moreover, since Origen’s reading of the text emphasized its allegorical meaning more than its literal, he also asserted, “I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.”3
 
While some addressed this difficulty by providing a metaphorical reading of “day,” others highlighted a careful reading of the distinct wording of the text to solve the difficulty. The text precisely reads in verse five “one day,” and not “the first day.” From this, theologians such as Augustine reasoned that, in fact, all the days of mentioned in the creation account are this “one day,” not separate days unto themselves. In other words, Augustine contended that the world was created instantaneously in one day and not successively over a period of six days. What is actually going on in the text, then, is that this “one day” is repeated 7 times. Hence, the description of a morning, an evening, and a mid-day were not describing intervals of time per se, but, rather, a certain order to creation.4 Augustine explained that the reason the text presents a 6-day sequence of creation was to accommodate the teaching for those who could not understand simultaneous creation.5
 
Aquinas, on the other hand, disagreed with Augustine. The world was indeed created in 6 successive days and not in one day repeated seven times.6 Instead of focusing upon what kind of “day” is meant by the text, Aquinas focused upon how a succession of six days emphasizes the order and sequence of creation that was intended by God.
 
Aquinas demonstrated that there is a noticeably 3-fold division of creation: first, there is the work of creation, in which the heaven and earth—the original matter for all the rest of creation—were created on day one. Next comes the work of distinction, in which the various parts of creation were made distinct from each other: the heavens, the waters, and the earth. Finally, the last three days of creation are the work of adornment, in which the heavens are adorned with heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars) and birds; the waters are adorned with sea creatures, and the land was adorned with plants, animals and humanity.7
 
Other readers, such as Luther, insisted that “day” is a literal 24-hour day and, against Augustine, that the world was not created instantaneously. Calvin also rejected Augustine’s contentions that the world was created instantaneously and that the 6-day exposition is merely there for our instruction. However, he applied Augustine’s appeal to accommodation in a different way, arguing that it is better to believe that God literally took 6 days to create the world. Of course God could have created the world instantaneously, but God chose to use a literal six days precisely to accommodate God’s works to human capacity, for by doing so God distributed the creation of the world into successive portions in order that humans might more easily reflect upon it and glorify God.8
 
Light without Sun and Moon
 
A similar difficulty arises with the question of how God created light in verse 3 when the sun, moon, and stars were not created until verse 14. “What kind of light was this that was first created?” our expositors asked. Augustine responded by asserting that the angels were part of that creation of the heavens in verse 1. These angels, Augustine explained, are the source of light, for “angels were created as sharers in the eternal light.”9
 
Aquinas wrote that a kind of primitive light was created on that first day that was then adorned on the fourth day with the sun, moon, and stars.10 Similarly, Luther insisted that, “the crude light of the first day was perfected by the addition of new creatures on the 4th day—the sun, moon and stars.”11
 
Calvin used this mystery as a point of instruction about God’s sovereignty: that God in God’s sovereignty can impart to us light without the sun and moon and stars and that by later assigning light to the sun, moon, and stars God also teaches that all creatures are subject to God’s will and command.12
 
The imago Dei
 
A final important issue we’ll look at here concerned the question of what it means for humanity to be created in the image of God. All interpreters agreed that to be created in the image of God indicated that humanity is distinguished in greatness above the rest of creation.
 
Origen argued that the image of God is first and foremost Christ, and so ultimately, Genesis 1 aims to teach humanity to make progress daily to conform itself to the likeness of Christ.13 Augustine argued that humanity being created in the image of God points to three distinctive qualities of humans: first, part of the image of God is the dominion given to humanity. Second, human reason is the image of God.14 And finally, to be created in the image of God is to bear a Trinitarian image—since the human mind has memory, mind, and will.15
 
Aquinas also emphasized that humanity created in the image of God refers primarily to the human mind and is a Trinitarian image.16 Luther followed along these lines to argue that to be created in the image of God is to be created in the Trinitarian image of memory, mind and will; however, he emphasized the original righteousness of humanity as central to the imago Dei, rather than simply the mental capacity of humans.17
 
Calvin, on the other hand, viewed seeing a Trinity in humanity as a fabrication. Similar to Luther, he argued that being created in the image of God pointed to the perfection of the whole human nature that God originally intended in creation, in which the whole person—mind, soul, heart, affections and even the body—were rightly ordered toward God’s intentions.18
 
In the third post, I’ll add some final observations about how these early interpreters understood the relationship between knowledge from the scriptures and the scientific knowledge of their day.
 
Notes
 
1. Justin Martyr, Dialogue 81.4; Irenaeus, Adv Her 5.30.4.
2. Origen, Contra Cel 6.50.
3. Origen, De Princ, 4.1.16.
4. Augustine, Gen ad litt 5.5, 5.2.
5. Augustine, Gen ad litt 4.51-52, 5.5. Quote from Robert Letham, “’In the Space of Six Days’: The days of creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly,” WTJ 61 (1999): 157.
6. Aquinas, Summa Theo Q74, art 2 & 3.
7. Aquinas, Summa Theo Q70, art 1 and Q74, art 1.
8. LW 1:3, 4, 5, 14. Calvin, Comm on Gen, 78.
9. Augustine, Gen ad litt, 160, 5.12; see Letham, 154-55, 160.
10. Aquinas, Summa Theo Q67, art 4; Q70, art 1. St. Basil, Hexameron 2.7-8, 6.2-3.
11. LW 1:40.
12. Calvin, Comm on Gen, 76, 83.
13. Origen, Hom on Gen, 62-63, 65, 66.
14. Augustine, Against the Mani, 76.
15. Augustine, Gen ad litt, 187-88.
16. Aquinas, Summa Theo Q 93, art 1, 5.
17. LW 1:60.
18. Calvin, Comm on Gen, 93-95.
 
 
Part 3
The Heart of the Matter
 
So far in this survey of pre-modern Christian interpretation of the Genesis text, I’ve argued that all of the early interpreters believed Scripture to be the inspired and infallible Word of God, given by God to reveal God and God’s truths for the church; that is, they all believed that any good reading of Scripture will be performed in, with and for the church for the church’s strengthening and/or repentance. But I’ve also argued that Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all focused upon several shared theological teachings in their readings of Genesis 1, all of which point to the Trinitarian God of the historic creeds as Creator uniquely apart and above all of the created cosmos. For these interpreters, guiding the church towards a right theological relationship to the Father, Son and Spirit is the real aim of Scripture, rather than establishing scientific details of the creation process, about which these church Fathers held various opinions.
 
Indeed, as to those details, pre-modern Christian readers of Genesis 1 debated about whether this text should be read primarily in its literal sense or in a spiritual sense. Again, they agreed that Scripture is the divine, authoritative Word of God, and that every word in Scripture is there by God’s intention. But belief in a kind of “infallibility” of Scripture did not lead these Christian readers to insist upon the literal sense of the text in terms of its scientific accuracy. In fact, several of our pre-modern readers caution against precisely such an assumption.
 
For example, at the very start of Aquinas’s explanation of the creation account, he clarified that the insistence that the world was created and that God created the world is a matter of faith and not something that could be sufficiently proven by rational demonstration. He wrote,
By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist … for the will of God cannot be investigated by reason … rather, the divine will is manifested by revelation, upon which faith rests. Hence, that the world began to exist is an object of faith and not a matter of scientific demonstration.1
900 years prior to Aquinas, Augustine himself had already stated that when one undertakes a study of Genesis 1, one does so “not by way of assertion, but by way of inquiry.” The contrast between assertion and inquiry was a classic way of demarcating matters of rational demonstration from matters of faith.2
 
Martin Luther, as well, remarked that no one has been able to explain everything in Genesis 1 adequately, nor has there been much agreement about its meaning, except to agree that the world has a beginning, that God created the world, and that the world was created out of nothing.3 Thus, he warned Christians to attend to the limits of language:
Therefore, if we want to walk in safety, let us accept what Scripture submits for our reflection and what God wants us to know, and pass over those things not revealed in the Word.4
Calvin directly addressed the question of the relation of Scripture’s authority and infallibility to its scientific accuracy. Specifically, he took issue with the fact that Genesis 1 names the sun and moon as the two great lights. Calvin noted that astronomers in his day already know that the moon is much smaller than Saturn, so is Scripture to be considered wrong here, since it is not scientifically accurate to call the moon one of the great lights?
 
Calvin contended that Scripture should not be considered wrong nor should one reject the findings of science. Instead, he insisted that Moses’s intention is not to be a scientist; rather, Moses uses what can be seen by the common eye in order to instruct all persons. All persons can see the sun and moon and learn about God’s providence, sovereignty and beneficence towards creation.5
 
Martin Luther in 1533, by Lucas Cranach the Elder
 
For these pre-modern Christians, then, Scripture’s authority and infallibility were not staked upon its scientific accuracy; rather, Scripture’s authority and infallibility meant that all Scripture is inspired by God “and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Simply put, the authority and infallibility of Scripture meant that all Scripture should edify the church—namely, be useful and build up the church in right teaching and an ethical life.
 
Indeed, the insistence that Scripture is intended by God to train us in righteousness may be seen at the heart of all of these pre-modern readings in one way or another. When Origen reads Genesis 1 allegorically to illustrate the Christian’s journey from having one’s mind dwell on earthly things to the maturity of placing one’s mind on heavenly things, he precisely envisions a training toward righteousness and conformity to Christ. Likewise, Augustine’s allegorical reading also envisions the days of creation as the Christian’s ethical journey toward fuller righteousness.
 
Even for those who insist upon a more strictly literal reading of Genesis, such as Aquinas, Luther and Calvin—as well as the literal readings of Origen and Augustine—the primary intention of their interpretations is to proclaim profitable teachings for the church, both for right doctrine and for right ethical living. Such right teachings are that 1) God is the one and only God who created the world, that 2) God created from nothing, that 3) God is a Trinity, and that 4) humankind’s being created in God’s image was a teaching about God’s original intention of righteousness for humanity.
 
Especially in the accounts of Luther and Calvin, we find the profound insistence that belief in God as Creator and the world as created calls all creation—and the Christian in particular—to right knowledge of God as a good, beneficent and sovereign God, and right knowledge of self as created being. By this theological understanding of God, all persons are taught that the right response to God’s magnificence is unending praise and admiration, as well as rightful awe, respect and obedience.6 No doubt our pre-modern predecessors believed in creation, but they remind us that a belief in creation is primarily a matter of faith, and that our beloved Scriptures indeed are true and infallible by offering truths about God—theological teachings for the church’s edification, to uphold faithful doctrine and ethical practices.
 
Notes
 
1. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q46, art 2.
2. Augustine, Gen ad litt, 145.
3. LW 1:3-4.
4. LW 1:14.
5. Calvin, Comm on Gen, 86-87.
6. LW 1:39, 47, 49. Calvin, Comm on Gen, 77.
 
 
 
 

The Calf Path of an Open, Discerning Faith


As a past evangelic and now emergent exploring Christianity's postmodern fall-and-rise, I found Sam Walter Foss' poem, The Calf Path, to have quite a bit to say about following the past traditions and theologies of men sometimes held too high or too sacrosanct as to allow the fresher breezes and airs of God's Word to breathe alive its worlds of truth and beauty to us today.

We do err by not listening to our world today when preferring the older times and more ancient thoughts of past church eras. This is not to say that we should not listen to the past histories and tales of men and women sometimes bought with too-high a price. For the past may guide as much as the present if helped along with the keys of discernment... Our choices are not one or the other, but both, and all, and none. Confusion comes to the undiscerning when always listening but failing to see. When believing all can be known that has been known and nothing further can be expressed. This behavior is unlike God. And must be unlike His church.

The church has learned and experienced a lot through the ages past, but like many adults living life, the church should never stop learning, for when it does, it immortalizes the past unduly beyond its bounds, having nothing then to offer the younger generations around it. This would be the same for us too. For this kind of behavior will also prevents us from recognizing the many times our failure and sin has brought undue pain and ignorance to those around us. And it prevents us from hearing God. For can it be said that "we know all that can be known about our infinite God? That we have fully comprehended the One who is icomprehensible? That the church has said all that can be said about God, and may only set a guard about its fortress walls of traditions, creeds and dogmas? That it may close its doors, and shut the shop, and post a sign in its windows saying 'gone to bed'?"

No, I think not. And I also suspect that God has a lot more to say to us today... especially in our wealth of knowledge, sciences, learning and industry. Because what He has to say is said to the moiling masses of people in their societies and cultures, generations and families. As people ever are, so God ever is. A God who is ever present in our midst speaking words of wisdom and love into our turbulent lifestyles. To these words we must learn to listen never pretending that all has been said that can be said.

Tradition is a great thing. And history is a thing to be preserved. And if used as proper guides - touched by a healthy dose of discernment - tradition and history can lead us into our futures. But when they do, expect all to change, and to become unlike the past it came from. And do not then regret it. For this is the way of life. Of man. Of our estate created in the image of God by our Divine Maker who redeems all.

For if we cease to listen to God's ever present word, a word that by its nature is immanent and re-incarnating, than we have presented to ourselves a closed bible, and an irrelevant faith, no longer living and breathing the billowing airs and societies of renewing humanity. We need always pray for open hearts, open bibles, and open preaching to God's revelatory words guiding, and guarding, our wandering calf paths in these halycon days of sin and dark opportunity. Learning to listen. To examine. To see. To evolve.

The calf paths once taken may have been of help once. But they are as crooked now as ever they once were - perhaps by God's delight and amusement as much to our wandering lostness of heart and soul. Sometimes they need straightening for economy's sake. And sometimes they need a detour for re-purposing's sake. And sometimes they just need to be walked for nurture's sake through a leafy green woods upon a winding trail on a beautiful, sunny, spring day.

As a former evangelic, I have left this well used trail with deep appreciation for everything that it once provided, but now must turn onto the promising future of what my newer trail can provide in God's creative and re-creating heart during these newer days of postmodernism. For I'm searching for an emerging Christian faith that is relevant to the now and not to the then. To the future, and not to the past. Yes, traditions can be of a help, as history may be a guide. But exploration is ever in the heart of man knowing that Eden is ever before him. And at its end, as in its beginning, is the God that was, and is, and is to come.

R.E. Slater
November 27, 2012
 

Cartoon by Michael Leunig
 
 
The Calf-Path
by Sam Walter Foss

*Sam Walter Foss: Minor Poet with a Major Message -
http://ethicalstl.org/platforms/platform071199.php


One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then two hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
 
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
 
And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made;
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed -- do not laugh --
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
 
This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
 
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
 
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
 
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach --
But I am not ordained to preach.




 
 
Continue to -
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Biologos Video Series - Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Parts 1-4

For a good introduction to the Story of Creation in Genesis Biologos has created an excellent short series through theologian John Walton's many years of research and discovery. It integrates the evolutionary view of science with a grand overview of theological commentary showing the richness and depth of the Genesis stories themselves. Though we would not expect the ancient biblical writers to have understood evolution at that time, we would expect them to tell us of the God who created the cosmos and is in the process of redeeming all that He has created.
 
As such, Genesis is the Story of God as our Creator-Redeemer intimately involved with the world of men and the universe. Genesis is not the story of how God created, but the Story of God Himself. It is a story remarkably different from the stories of God being re-told by previous, more ancient, cultures over the spans of many earlier millenias. The Jewish story of God is the Christian story of God. A story of God's love and redemption in the midst of sin and death.
 
Biologos continues to do excellent work in the area of integrating biblical studies with the modern theories of evolution. Here then is their most recent production, Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Parts 1-4.
 
R.E. Slater
November 27, 2012
 
*Please be aware that the links below will take the viewer to the Biologos Vimeo site for direct viewing. I have provided these links as a convenient way to view the series as a whole rather than in part. And as a convenient way to link up the thoughts expressed here in Relevancy22 with other adept sources of information that I find helpful and informative.
 
 
 
Genesis Through Ancient Eyes
Produced by Bilogos and John Walton
 
Today’s entry is part of our Video Blog series. For similar resources, visit our audio/video section, or our full "Conversations" collection. Please note the views expressed in the video are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Today's video features
John Walton. John Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and an editor and writer of Old Testament comparative studies and commentaries. Throughout his research, Walton has focused his attention on comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East. He has published dozens of books, articles and translations, both as writer and editor, including his latest book The Lost World of Genesis One.
 
- Biologos
 
A special thank you to Dr. Walton, his son Jonathan Walton for the illustrations, and Scott Karow of ReI-media for the PowerPoint design.
 
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team. 
 
 
Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Part 1
Oct 15, 2012
 
In the first segment of his talk, “Genesis Through Ancient Eyes”, Dr. John Walton discusses the authority of Scripture and how we should both honor and understand the text. According to Walton, we must remember that Scripture is “for us”, but that it was not written “to us”. He briefly highlights the ancient cosmology of both Egypt and Isreal and implores us to see the text of the Bible the way the Ancient Israelites would have seen it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Part 2
October 16, 2012
 
Dr. Walton begins the second part of his talk by noting that there is no scientific revelation in the Bible. The lack of science in the Bible does not compromise its message, however, because the ancient Israelites were focused on function, not material origins. Genesis is concerned with God bringing order from non-order, not with describing how matter emerged. He ends with the illustration of a house vs. a home, contending that Genesis is written to explain the origins of our home (our personal, spiritual place), not our house (the physical place where we reside).
 
 
 
 
Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Part 3
October 17, 2012
 
In the third part of his talk, Dr. John Walton looks at the original language of Genesis, especially the word bara', or “created”. He again notes the focus on function over material beginnings, looking at the examples of “time”, “weather”, and “food” (all functional) that are created in Genesis. He ends by describing the importance of the seventh day (rest) in the creation story, which seems useless from a material standpoint but is the key point of creation from a functional standpoint, as it describes God establishing the cosmos as his home.
 
 
 
 
Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, Part 4
October 18, 2012
 
In the final part of his talk, Dr. John Walton briefly looks at the phrase “It was good” and the narrative in Genesis 2-3. He describes the second account in those chapters as a sequel rather than synoptic re-telling of the first narrative, and suggests that its descriptions are archetypal rather than scientific. He argues that if Genesis 2 has an archetypal focus, there is no biblical account of material human origins. Walton concludes his presentation with the poem “The Calf Path” by Sam Walter Foss.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Calf-Path
by Sam Walter Foss
 
*Sam Walter Foss: Minor Poet with a Major Message -
 
 
One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then two hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made;
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed -- do not laugh --
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach --
But I am not ordained to preach.