Introducing Genesis, part 2

Part 1

Can you recall God’s interrogation of Job in chapter 38 the book of Job? God questions Job if he can say how God created! And can Job answer? No. The whole point of God’s questioning is to expose that Job does not know (and therefore cannot challenge God). He doesn’t know because God has not revealed it in special revelation.

The Genesis account doesn’t give us the scientific mechanism of creation. Rather, creation is described as what “seems to the popular eye to occur.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Does this mean we deny that the creation narrative is historical? Not at all. It is historical, it really happened, but it is not intended to give scientific information. Genesis is Scripture, correct? What is the intended teaching of God’s Word?

Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

–Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 5

So why do so many people treat Genesis differently than the rest of the Bible?

Genesis is not primarily about general history of the world. It’s a selective history. It’s not a video recording of all history, capturing all the details. Obviously it isn’t, for where is Cain’s wife from? If we insist that all historical details are included in the Genesis account, then we’ve got problems. How could Cain build a “city” if only he and his wife lived there? The narrative doesn’t tell us everything there is to know. It tells us what is needed in God’s purpose of the text. It provides Redemptive History.

Hermeneutical Points:

Original Context

The original audience, the author(s) of the text, the intent of the author(s).

Who were the first listeners of the text? What was their background, their current situation? What questions would they need answered? Do you think they were asking how old the universe was?

What kind of literature is the creation narrative? Are we even supposed to interpret according to strict literalism? That would require zero figurative language (is that even possible?). Genre is vital to proper understanding of the text.

Do we expect a scientifically precise language to be used? All figures of speech would be out. The Bible uses common human expression. It’s not telling us astronomy. To try to ascertain the location of the earth, or it’s shape, is to misunderstand the purpose of the Bible.

For quite a while, evangelical Bible readers have come to these opening chapters with certain expectations, born out of a Western, modernist, scientific presupposition. The expectation is that this part of the Bible that tells us of God’s creating the world will tell us how he did it, and how long it took. What has been ignored is, what was the purpose of the text, as Moses gave it to the Israelites delivered from Egypt?

“Yes, I’m sure they were concerned about evolution, and God was giving them specific answers to modern scientific concerns.”

Not.

Indeed, the Bible gives answers, but it also corrects the questions we ask. The Bible is for our instruction, yet we are not the original recipients. We must put ourselves, as much as possible, in the place of the original hearers of the text we are studying. They were a particular people in a particular situation, and God was speaking into that context. On top of our sin and finitude, we are also prone to chronological snobbery. But, we must allow Scripture to shape even the questions we bring to it.

Here’s a taste of the original context of the first hearers of Genesis:

Pagan worldviews and creation myths. Where was Israel before receiving Genesis? Egypt. For how long? Four hundred years. God delivered them from a pagan nation, and they were going to claim a land that was occupied by, more pagans! Lots of unbelief surrounded them. Naturally, since the Hebrews alone were God’s people.

Perhaps that sheds light on the purpose of Genesis 1-3? What would God’s covenant people need to know, freshly redeemed from captivity?

Who is God, what is real, how do we know things, who are we, how should we live. Then, after hearing the creation narrative, they would be wondering why doesn’t that good creation, the garden, match our experience now? The account of the fall of man is given, explaining why the world is the way it is now.

The Genesis account can be understood more clearly in light of the background of the original hearers.

Scripture interprets Scripture (Analogy of Scripture)

 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

–Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9

Christ and Redemptive History

Remember the Grammatical-Historical method of interpretation? It focuses on grammar, and interprets the text on it’s own merits.

The tendency is to isolate the text from the rest of Redemptive History, and not interpret the text in that larger context.

Rather, we should interpret with a Redemptive-Historical-Grammatical method, not limiting the meaning of a text based on its own merits but within the context of Redemptive History, based on its place in the timeline, and in light of Jesus Christ. We must interpret Genesis within the larger context of Redemptive History, including eschatology. Do we think this portion of Scripture can be properly understood when divorced from the rest of God’s Word?

We have the fullness of revelation. We have been provided the fuller meaning. We can understand Genesis better than the original audience, and even better than Moses, because we are looking back to the reality, while they only had types and shadows.

Christ himself said that our interpretation must be Christocentric. That is what the New Testament authors did. Our method of interpreting Genesis must be that of the the New Testament.

The big question is: what is the ultimate authority for determining a proper hermeneutic? What will be the bottom line to say “this is the correct way to do it”? According to what will you say, “that’s a correct hermeneutic” or “that’s a bad hermeneutic”?

Because of sin and our finitude, and the nature of special revelation, the only way to properly understand anything is to submit to God’s revealed perspective. This even applies to hermeneutics. It will be on God’s authority that we say “that’s a correct hermeneutic.” So the answer is: the Triune God speaking through His Word (the Bible) alone is the only infallible authority in our quest for a proper hermeneutic.

We aren’t trying to find length of days, or interpreting according to “science” (whatever that happens to mean at the time). Christ interpreted, starting with Moses, the things concerning himself. The Apostle’s interpreted that way. That’s what we must do. Yes, Genesis obviously has implications for science, but the primary meaning of Genesis, like all of Scripture, is Jesus Christ.

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.

–Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5 (God’s Covenant with Man)

Do we think that we can properly understand the first Adam, without reference to the last Adam?

Do we think we can understand the creation without considering the new creation?

We read “in the beginning God created . . .” but then in the New Testament it is revealed that “the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

All things were created through Him,

and apart from Him not one thing was created

that has been created.

Life was in Him,

and that life was the light of men.

That light shines in the darkness,

yet the darkness did not overcome it.

–John 1:1-5

For everything was created by Him,

in heaven and on earth,

the visible and the invisible,

whether thrones or dominions

or rulers or authorities—

all things have been created through Him and for Him.

He is before all things,

and by Him all things hold together.

–Colossians 1:16-17

We must interpret Genesis in light of Christ. Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. Paul wrote that Adam was a type of Christ! He calls Jesus the second Adam, and that both are representatives. We learn that Christ’s work is connected to Adam. See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5.

We must interpret Genesis even in light of eschatology. That probably sounds really strange, since we tend to isolate eschatology from Redemptive History (it’s ironic that we do that to the beginning and end of the Bible). But it shouldn’t sound strange. There’s a new creation. There’s a restoration of all things.

The two big, key hermeneutical presuppositions to remember throughout our study of Genesis are:

1. Larger context of Redemptive History

2. Centrality of Christ

As Richard Belcher of RTS says, we don’t “find” Christ in the Old Testamnet, but are confronted with Him. All the threads finally make sense in light of Christ. We expect the Old Testament to testify about Christ! We don’t read Christ back into the Old Testament. Rather, we acknowledge that we don’t understand the Old Testament properly apart from Christ.

“We don’t read our Bible’s as if we are Jews, locked in the Old Testament without Christ . . . We read our Bible’s backwards.”

–J.V. Fesko

So what is the point of our studying Genesis?

Do you want to know your Savior better? Christ is revealed in Scripture. Christ is the goal and ultimate meaning of the Scriptures. All of Scripture testifies about Christ. Including Genesis 1-3. We see special connection between Christ and this part of the Bible throughout the New Testament. We will understand the fulfillment, in Christ, if we understand what it was he was supposed to fulfill. As Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, “Then beginning with Moses . . . He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

We want to know God in Christ better. Understanding the beginning will help us understand the fulfillment. We’ll understand Christ’s work better if we understand what it is connected to. We will appreciate Christ more, and be moved to worship him.

The hope is that this study will strengthen us in what to believe concerning God. As said before, the Christian worldview is taught in the beginning.

Paul wrote that all Scripture is profitable. We will know God better. We’ll know who we are, better. We’ll understand the whole of Scripture better. We will understand the failure of Adam, better. And will will know the person and work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ the promised Redeemer, better.

If we have engaged in “Bible study”, even of the Old Testament, and have not met Christ there, then we have not interpreted adequately. If we claim to have exegeted the text yet have not been confronted with Christ, then we have not completed our exegesis. Our interpretation is incomplete if Jesus is not there.

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Perspectives on Hermeneutics

This is a perspectival way of looking at Reformed hermeneutics. These three things should not be looked at as three steps but as three perspectives or angles. Reminder: Hermeneutics is one’s philosophy and methodology of interpretation

Presuppositional

Reformed systematics is the theology that’s consistent with the concept of “worldview.” It is obvious that there’s no neutrality, since human beings are covenantal beings and are either for God or against Him; either in Adam or in Christ. Also, we affirm the radical corruption of man, knowing that every aspect of man is corrupted by sin. Worldview talk was instinctive for Reformed theologians, which is why Reformed people were the first to bring it up and start using the language, according to Robert Cara at RTS.

That our hermeneutic is “presuppositional” means that we:

1. are conscious of our presuppositions

2. are conscious of the Bible’s presuppositions

→ either explicit, or

→ by “good and necessary consequence” (the logical implications of Scripture)

Examples of important biblical presuppositions:

Sin blocks our understanding (Romans 1:21, Ephesians 4:17-18)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7)

God is asserted, not argued for (Genesis 1:1, 2:4; John 1:1-3)

The Creator/Creature Distinction (Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 55:8-9, Acts 17:24-25)

God’s Word is to be submitted to, not defiantly challenged (Job 38-42)

These are only a handful of biblical doctrines that affect how we approach and interpret the Bible. We study and interpret accordingly, from a position of faith, allowing the Bible to confront our incorrect presuppositions, and we adopt what God has revealed. Our worldview polluted by sin is gradually shaped and brought into submission. Our basic autonomous beliefs are replaced by God’s truth, bringing our worldview closer to Scripture (we think God’s thoughts after Him).  Our mind is transformed.

And example of this in action: to the Hebrews who had been surrounded by pagan worldviews for 400 years in Egypt, God gave revelation (the five books of Moses) for them to know Him based on His self-revelation. False presuppositions would have been trumped. The pagan creation-myths of the Gentiles would be confronted with God’s creation narrative. Many stories of Genesis were polemical in this way, in that the Divine Author adopted a familiar pattern or story, yet changed the meaning.

Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning. The biblical authors take well-known expressions and motifs from the ancient Near Eastern milieu and apply them to the person and work of Yahweh, and not to the other gods of the ancient world. Polemical theology rejects any encroachment of false gods into orthodox belief; there is an absolute intolerance of polytheism. Polemical theology is monotheistic to the very core.

The primary purpose of polemical theology is to demonstrate emphatically and graphically the distinctions between the worldview of the Hebrews and the beliefs and practices of the rest of the ancient Near East. . . The purpose of polemical theology is to demonstrate the essential distinctions between Hebrew thought and ancient Near Eastern beliefs and practices.

-Currid, John D. (2013-08-31). Against the Gods: The Polemical Theology of the Old Testament (Kindle Locations 397-410). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

This is why Genesis is so rich and foundational: God was telling His special covenant people how to understand Him, them, and the world, and how to live accordingly.

“Biases are not bad, bad biases are bad. It is a good bias to have God’s bias.”

-Robert Cara

Summary: Scripture interprets Scripture. God’s Word is the authority, even in hermeneutics. As the Reformers declared, contra the Roman Catholic church, Sola Scriptura! The authority in hermeneutics is not the magisterium, or anything else outside of Scriptures, but Scripture itself.

Big Question – what is the ultimate authority for determining the correct hermeneutic? The Reformed answer: the Triune God speaking through Scripture, alone. Christ alone is Lord of hermeneutics.

Why, when discussing hermeneutics, do I emphasize the presuppositional aspect?

1) it is easy to have a hermeneutic based on some authority outside the Bible.

2) it’s easy to abstract Christ from the overall system of faith given to us; all about Whom, without the what. Taking Christ without everything He believed (presupposed) about God’s Word (and ending up neo-orthodox or something).

3) we can see the Bible as simply a story (Redemptive-Historically), while neglecting the interdependence of it’s parts (Systematic-Theology) and interpreting accordingly.

Christocentric

Or, Christotelec or Christological

I know it may sound redundant, but when talking about studying the Bible “Christocentrically”, it has become necessary also to mention being Gospel centered. This could seem like an unnecessary qualification. But, as Tim Keller has observed, it’s possible to talk about Christ without actually getting to the Gospel; as when Christ is merely presented as our model to imitate, to the neglect of Christ as our substitute. We often look at Christ as a law to follow, and never understand the text in light of His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf.

Christ Himself said: “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.” (John 5:39)

Jesus taught Jesus from the Old Testament. And so should we.

-Voddie Baucham

We, having the fullness of revelation, read the Old Testament from the fullness of revelation.

As Richard Belcher of RTS says, we don’t “find” Christ in the OT, but are confronted with Him. All the threads finally make sense in light of Christ. We expect the Old Testament to testify about Christ! We don’t read Christ back into the Old Testament. Rather, we acknowledge that we don’t understand the Old Testament properly apart from Christ.

In other words, the New Testament reveals that the Old Testament reveals Christ. Christ is the focus of Scripture. It all relates to His work, the Gospel

Why, when discussing hermeneutics, do I emphasize the Christocentric aspect?

1) it is easy to depersonalize the presuppositional facet from Christ (which itself is to be insufficiently presuppositional). We do this when we emphasize the Bible’s authority or worldview while forgetting the Gospel and that Christ is necessary to understanding the Bible.

2) also, we are prone to emphasize the progression of the Bible and lose sight of how central the person and work of Christ is: separating the history of the Old Testament from Christ’s redeeming work, for example.

Redemptive Historical

History is important!

According to our hermeneutic, our philosophy of interpretation (following the Reformation), unity of Scripture is rooted in history and the progressive nature of revelation. Later meanings are connected to historical context; the human author is not ignored. Fuller meaning is not a new meaning. It is an outgrowth of original meaning in light of later revelation. Meaning of a text is not multiple; it is one. However, it may be a complex unity, which reflects the God who gives meaning (the Trinity). The teleological (looking forward) is rooted in the historical progression of Redemptive History. Again, history is important.

God, the Divine Author of Scripture, is directing the drama toward a specific climax. God’s superseding providence links the grammatical, the historical, and the redemptive together. God is involved in the original meaning and in the organic connection to the meaning for everyone else.

-God ordained the original historical context

-it’s a narrative, there’s progression

-the drama is going somewhere, so we must interpret in that light

-the drama ultimately climaxes in Christ

→ so, we interpret accordingly

-the place a particular text has in Redemptive History helps us understand it

Why, when discussing hermeneutics, do I emphasize the redemptive-historical aspect?

1) it’s easy to abstract the presuppositional facet from Redemptive History; interpreting according to the system of doctrine and neglecting when (in RH). We can interpret according to a grid looking for information on what to believe and how to live, becoming moralistic/legalistic, forgetting that all of Scripture points to Christ and His work. The RH perspective recognizes that God’s revelation never comes as a textbook, but in the form of covenant.

2) and, emphasizing Redemptive History puts controls on how and where we see Christ in the Scriptures, and what relationship texts have to Christ. Christ is the “true and better…” We can claim to be focused on Christ yet not see how the story is all about Him; holding Him in isolation from everything that God orchestrated (divine authorial intent). We can assert that Jesus is important, but not see Him as the climax of Redemptive History.

My case:

If you’re consistently any one of these three perspectives, then you’ll automatically be the other two. But, for teaching purposes, I think it’s helpful to look at it from all three angles, emphasizing each perspective so as to minimize neglect of the others.

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