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Understanding Creation In Light Of Ane Culture


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#1 Phil

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:11 PM

Well, I think that some of you deserve to know my perspective of the bible, since I claim to be a Christian and I argue in favor of evolution.

Before I begin to explain my perspective, I need to ask the mods about what they will accept. Do you guys think that we can learn more about the meaning of Genesis if we interpret it in the context of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture? Some people get really defensive and think that understanding the creation account in it's original context is an atheist ploy, so I want to make sure that my intentions are understood and are acceptable before I proceed.

#2 Ron

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 03:44 AM

Well, I think that some of you deserve to know my perspective of the bible, since I claim to be a Christian and I argue in favor of evolution.

Before I begin to explain my perspective, I need to ask the mods about what they will accept.  Do you guys think that we can learn more about the meaning of Genesis if we interpret it in the context of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture?  Some people get really defensive and think that understanding the creation account in it's original context is an atheist ploy, so I want to make sure that my intentions are understood and are acceptable before I proceed.

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Have you read the forum rules? If you do so, you will easily understand what is accepted, and what is not.

#3 ikester7579

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 10:35 AM

What is your source? The reason I ask is because everyone thinks they have the truth. Even in regular theology. Some of it is man-made to man's liking, while others are tradition. Then some are from outer space (Mormons).

Give us a sample of what you would like to talk about.

#4 Phil

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 10:44 AM

What is your source?

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A couple of my sources include:

Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, Intervarsity Press

The report of the committee to study the views of creation, published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Various christian theoloy papers. My brother is currently getting his masters in theology and has access to the school's peer reviewed theology paper database.

I will not be using any atheist sources.

Also note that my intention isn't to change anybody's mind, because that rarely happens on a chat forum. I only hope to demonstrate that it is a theologically ok to interpret the creation account as non-literal history without affecting the literal event of Jesus sacrifice for us.

#5 Phil

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 11:09 PM

Alright, a quick preface to this post. My intention here is to let you know how I can accept all of the truth claims of the bible and also accept evolution as the mechanism for how God made us. Also note that you don't have to accept evolution to understand scripture in the way I will explain it, so please don't be defensive about it before you even read what I have to say. This is God's word, let's understand it for what it says. I'm also writing this for a Christian audience so I'm taking it for granted that the bible was inspired by God. I won't try to defend that in this thread.

First, I want to look at a couple different pieces of scripture. When we read about how Jesus sacrificed Himself for us, it must be literally true for it to have meaning. There are other parts of the bible that do not have to be literal for the overall meaning to be true. For example; In 1 Samuel 2 it says "for the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he hath set the world upon them." It is clear that this is not intended to be a science lesson about how God placed the earth on pillars. In its context, the passage is about God's sovereignty over everything. (There's more to it than that, but I'm being general because this passage isn't the main point of this post.) The truth claim of that passage is that God is sovereign over everything, and that truth claim is still true even though the earth isn't sitting on pillars. Critics of the bible like to point out how the bible is inaccurate on these details, so it's worth asking "Why would the bible say the earth is on pillars?" After all, it's mentioned a couple other times in the bible as well (Job 9, Psalms 75).

The reason that pillars are mentioned is that God was inspiring the human authors to write down timeless truths, and those truths are accommodated to their level of understanding. The point isn't to tell the world that the earth is on pillars, that is merely a backdrop that the human author understands to help him convey what God is inspiring him to write about. The ancient near eastern (ANE) view of the universe is that the universe was a giant ocean, and their was a solid dome that kept the waters above from crashing down. The sun, moon and stars were in that solid dome and there were windows that were opened to let in the rain. the earth itself was a disc shape that sat on pillars. That view is what the human author had in mind when writing that verse, but his scientifically inaccurate view of the structure of the universe is only a backdrop to the more important truths that God wanted him to get across to us.

So now what does this have to do with the creation account? Well, we already know that at least some level of accommodation has taken place, even if you are an adherent to a strictly literal view. We know that God doesn't "breathe" but God breathed life into Adam (mankind). Whatever God did to give life to mankind was beyond the understanding of the ancient Hebrews so it was accommodated to their level of understanding by using the word "breathe". Also, some parts of the creation account only make sense if read figuratively. In Genesis 3:15 when God punishes the serpent he says that he will bruise our heels, and we will bruise his head. To read this as a literal interaction between people and snakes makes no sense, but to understand it as figurative for the struggle that we face with temptation and our power to overcome it with Jesus makes a lot more sense.

In the Creation Report released by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 2004 they outlined several views of the creation account that were acceptable within Christian theology. My particular view contains elements of both the framework view (line 1835) and the analogical view (line 2226). I won't recap all of it here, it's too much to type. If you've never been exposed to the immediate context of the creation account it's understandable that some people will be defensive about some of the things I say. I highly recommend reading the appendix about the ancient near eastern context (line 3106). The first little bit of it is (emphasis added):

Anthony York recently said of the great Swedish biblical scholar and Semitist, Ivan Engnell, who had spent some 25 years meticulously studying the first couple of chapters of Genesis, “Surely…to spend a quarter of a century studying a passage of three short chapters in the Bible is academic eccentricity enthroned. However, now that I have myself surveyed a minute portion of the secondary literature . . . my judgment of Engnell’s dedication has become considerably more charitable.” As a committee and as a church, we may resound with a sympathetic echo when we begin to delve into this profound and much discussed section of Scripture. It goes without saying of course, that the doctrine of creation has always been considered of fundamental importance in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The biblical account of creation, which occurs in Genesis 1-3, did not just fall out of the sky without being influenced by its cultural environment. Furthermore, "Any serious study of Genesis 1-2 must include careful and critical use of other ancient Near Eastern cosmologies."


(I am being very general with the following descriptions.) The ANE culture thought that the earth, sky, sun, stars etc were made from the bodies of gods, dead or alive depending on what part we are talking about and what culture. God inspired the author of the creation account to give the people the truth about what had happened, but science was of no interest back then, it was not a science lesson. The creation account is set in a context that used elements of those other cultures to explain creation. However, it is NOT because Genesis was ripped off of those myths, it's because the creation account in the bible is an apologetic to those myths:

-Different elements were not made by different gods, they were all made by the one true God.
-Different elements like the earth and stars are not gods or the bodies of gods, they were created by God.
-Mankind was not made to be slaves for the gods, they were made to be in a relationship with God
-The universe was not made as the result of warring gods who then added humans as an afterthought, the universe was made by God of His own accord with humans as the pinnacle of creation


The list goes on but I'll try to wrap this up. The backdrop for those truths is accommodated to the cosmology of that time. The firmament held back the waters above, and the sun moon and stars were placed within the firmament. This is a reflection of an ancient cosmology, and does not portray what we know now about the universe. But, just as with the pillars mentioned elsewhere in the bible, this does not mean that bible isn't divinely inspired, it is a backdrop for the timeless truths that God inspired someone to say to us through the bible.

One of the main points I'd like to make is that understanding the creation account in its original context will give it a meaning that is true whether the creationism theory or the evolution theory are true. Even if we drop both and adopt a third option the truth claims of the creation account will still be true.

I left out an awful lot of detail, I will expand on this depending on the questions that I get. If you have questions, please don't just make a post like "Jesus mentioned Adam, therefore Adam existed or Jesus is a liar." I'll certainly discuss those things, but try to include a bit of a commentary on what things I've said that you agree with. I'd like to know where we have common ground in understanding scripture.




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