Genesis Five – Interpreting Scripture

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There is so much in these early chapters of Genesis that I haven’t commented on. There are the rivers that flowed from Eden. I don’t know how these early chapters were first written. Nobody knows, despite the theories. Some have suggested that when we see the term “these are the generations of” we are seeing a new section, possibly drafted or told by a new original author, and Moses later compiled these sections. A description of the rivers before the Flood of Noah would have been quite different from after the Flood. Nevertheless, these descriptions were intended to be historical, along with the mentions of the invention of metallurgy and many other factors these chapters address. In chapter five we see the lineage, which I also take to be literal history.

The narrative of the early chapters of Genesis is incredibly rich and can’t be defined by a simplistic category. These chapters have a strong mythological component.  I don’t mean myth as in not real, or non-historical. Mythology refers to a set of stories that define the identity, worldview and mission of a group of people. In this case, the stories are true and not embellished, but they also form the body of mythology, which means a collection of stories that also point to our future, to a redeeming God acting in commitment to his project of life. This future gives us guidance for faith and action as God’s people in our today. Past, present and future come together in the text. The stories as a group show us that God is moving us from creation to new creation, by overcoming darkness.

One part of Hebrew poetry is repetition, in a circular motion. The Pentateuch begins with creation and at the end of Deuteronomy we see Israel being called to a renewed world. This poetic structure (like two book ends) gives the worldview by which the Pentateuch and mission of the family of God are understood. The scriptures as a whole do this also, with Revelation ending with a merging heaven and earth. This poetic structure shows the mission of the divine family.  That is, the history that early Genesis tells, is told in such a way that it furnished Israel with a concept of their calling in the world, and described that calling in a poetic narrative, which is far more explicit than simple literal text.

In Genesis to Deuteronomy we see major historical events which merge to form our identity. First the creation, then the Flood, the calling of Abraham and then the Exodus. This shows us we are God’s second Adam made to reflect God into the world; the restorers of a new world after the Flood; the ones called out of a culture of darkness to be ambassadors of a better world; and the people of Exodus, being liberated and bringing liberation to the creation. This is how Israel identified themselves throughout their journey and conflict with injustice (at least their faith expressed this throughout the Old Testament) and Paul saw this journey being fulfilled in their Messiah and the journey we are now on as God’s Israel in Christ. These stories equip us with an empowering wisdom, as we bring God’s image to a world moving from chaos to goodness.  We live prophetic lives in the current world, of the bodily resurrection to come.

As for the genealogy detailed in Genesis five, its purpose was to show Israel’s lineage back to Adam, to show God fulfilling his promises to the early fathers through the Exodus and calling of Israel. Unfortunately, these genealogies were also taken by Israel as a kind of racial superiority, until Christ came and showed that wasn’t the point. The point was rather to show the coming to pass of God’s promises, which are for all people, and we are to treat all people the way God has treated us in mercy and faithfulness. Nor can we take the patriarchalism of these texts to mean that women are of lesser importance in the heritage of the Messiah. Other genealogies blow all these assumptions out of the water, with people from other races, sinners and women included in the Messiah’s line. Much of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels was to show this truth to Israel.

I can’t agree with those who claim this lineage in Genesis five is symbolic, or simply a token of longer years and more generations. The age of each patriarch is given when their son is born. I can’t see how any generation was missed in this exact genealogy. It’s true that later genealogies like those in Luke and Matthew, do miss generations, as a kind of summary of a longer period of history. But this genealogy in Genesis five is different, because the exact years are given for each generation. If these numbers have any metaphoric purpose, they first are meant to be taken historically. To simply allegorise the historical narrative of the text is not in the tradition of Hebrew literature. It isn’t simply text to be spiritualised (in the Greek gnostic tradition) but it is concrete earthly history first. It is heaven and earth, heavenly themes communicated through real history on earth. This is how Israel’s prophets communicated. It’s like those who spiritualise the book of Revelation, as though it had no concrete fulfilment in the first century when it was written. This would be against the Hebrew tradition of the prophets, who used metaphor to warn of “close, at hand” historical fulfilment.

As such, the age of creation as calculated by Bishop Ussher seems somewhat plausible when looking at scripture as a whole. There is enough detail in the whole Old Testament to show the number of years between all the major periods of their history, right up to the time of Christ. I can’t vouch for Ussher’s calculations, and I know the problem this presents for evolutionist/ long-age creationists. I am aware of the theories they put forward, such as geology, dating processes and starlight. I am also aware of the theories put forward by young-earth scientists, which are proposed by professional people. I heard recently that the term “scientific consensus” is an oxymoron. Science is about disagreement, hypothesis and investigation. I will not simply insert an evolutionary theory (the current trend) into biblical text, as the text’s master. I have seen this attempted but am unconvinced with the results. I respect scripture too much to dismiss it. I have seen scientists being wrong often, but not God’s character and word. Attempts to dismiss God’s word are intellectually shallow and disingenuous. I think we are just not there yet on our reconciliation of science with scripture. We have to keep investigating, keep being open, keep pushing and wait a bit.

Technocrats in our current time have become gods, replacing the “uncertainties of faith,” with the “certainties” of a new priesthood, complete with their hallowed white gowns. Due to some successes through science, the industry has assumed the status of saviour, and this means they can take control of humanity “in our interests.” This is happening today, a new kind of totalitarianism has dawned, “based on the facts on what is the common good,” but is really just a new way of stating Communist collectivism and control, or like Feudalism, where the elite rule for their own benefit. It’s cruel and dehumanising and rife with crimes against humanity, just as Hitler used these “scientists.” God is not like this “neo-paganism.” I love science, but I hate it when “science” is used for personal profits and is propped up with censorship and the punishment of “deviants.” The problem with science is our fallenness. When scientists compete for patents and discredit each other, you know we have a problem. We look for more power through science, but don’t have the character to use that power for our own true good. I would claim that the mythology of these technocrats isn’t real and doesn’t have a sound anchor in history, and in the end presents a worldview that is unjust and unkind.