Three Modern Myths In Interpreting Genesis 1 -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 76:2 (Fall 2014)
Article: Three Modern Myths In Interpreting Genesis 1
Author: Vern S. Poythress

Three Modern Myths In Interpreting Genesis 1

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

How do we reconcile Gen 1 with science? Three modern myths often interfere with understanding Gen 1. We propose to uncover these myths, in order to remove obstacles to understanding Gen 1.

Rather than beginning with the myths immediately, let us first consider one strand in contemporary interpretation. This approach begins by reading Gen 1 within its ancient Near Eastern context. It compares and contrasts Gen 1 with ancient Near Eastern myths. By so doing, it endeavors to show that many modern readers misread Gen 1. They read with scientific assumptions and scientific questions already in mind, and they may easily read into Gen 1 detailed scientific information that is not there. Depending on what they read in, they may find that Gen 1 does or does not agree with modern science. But the whole procedure is mistaken, because it involves misinterpretation. Readers should not seek for scientific teaching in Gen 1, but treat it for what it is, a document that comes from another culture than our own.

I. The Idea Of Outmoded Cosmology

There is much to be said in favor of this kind of approach, because the interference of modern assumptions generates misunderstanding, among both defenders and critics of Gen 1. Yet for our long-run spiritual health, a great deal depends on just how the interpretive task is accomplished. It is not always accomplished well. Some books and articles tell us that Gen 1 naturally and understandably contains outmoded and erroneous cosmological notions common to the ancient Near East, because it was written within that cultural milieu. For instance, scholars may say that Gen 1:6–8 refers to a solid dome of sky (“the expanse”) and a heavenly sea held in by the dome (“the waters that were above the expanse”).1

Such claims have been around for more than a century among liberal scholars, but now they are cropping up in some broadly evangelical circles as well. People who think that erroneous cos...

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