It Is Written. . .

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *