In this post I will continue sharing from Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam. After discussing the creation narrative of Genesis 1 and the flood narrative of Genesis 6-9 Enns returns to Genesis 2. He calls this “Israel’s second creation story.”
“The Adam story (due in part to Paul’s influence on Christian readers) is too often treated in isolation from the larger primordial narrative that extends from Genesis 1 through 11, which itself reflects the broader ancient Near Eastern context we glimpsed (Kindle Locations 1347-1349).”
This is important because Enns thinks that this chapter seems to be the largest hurdle for people when it comes to embracing evolution. Like Genesis 1 and 6-9 this chapter isn’t supposed to be about science or history. Rather, after Enns provides a two page list of similarities between Genesis 1-9 and other creation/flood narratives from the ancient near east he concludes,
“Listing some of the more salient connections between the Adam story and ancient literature adequately underscores that, whatever theological differences there are between Genesis and surrounding literature, Genesis reflects an ancient world, not a modern one. This fact should be fully appreciated when discussing the relationship between the biblical depiction of human origins and modern understandings of evolution (Kindle Locations 1521-1523).”
In other words, Genesis reflects a conversation with the ancient world. A polemic against it, yes, but a conversation with it and within it. Genesis may rise above surrounding depictions of the creation of the cosmos, or humanity, or flood stories, but it shares enough with them to remind us that it isn’t “modern.” Yet, Enns writes,
“To put it this way in no way discredits the story or devalues it as God’s Word but respects the story on its own terms as it functioned in the world in which those stories were written (Kindle Locations 1524-1525).”
Enns disagrees with those who would say for it to be God’s Word it must be historical. He concludes after examining the data that,
“…the early chapters of Genesis are not a literal or scientific description of historical events but a theological statement in an ancient idiom, a statement about Israel’s God and Israel’s place in the world as God’s people (Kindle Locations 1535-1537).”
Enns argues that literalism is a hermeneutical “decision.” If we think we must read this passage literalistically then we bring our particular theological agenda to the passage. But Scripture itself does not demand this. Enns rejects the idea that he is putting “science over Scripture” because he says Scripture is not addressing the science of creation. Enns suggest that while science is changing we accept that it is moving us “forward” in our understanding of the world and the literary structure of Genesis 1-9 does not demand that we read them as historical accounts (Kindle Location 1543-1567).
With this in mind Enns asks readers to read Genesis 1-9 in its historical context. This means letting it be God’s Word to that culture and world without it having to meet the standards of modern science. If we pull it out of its ancient context and universalize it Enns suggest the following:
“A noncontextual reading of Scripture is not only methodologically arbitrary but also theologically problematic. It fails to grasp in its entirety a foundational principle of theology that informs not only our understanding of the Bible but of all of God’s dealing with humanity recorded there, particularly in Jesus himself: God condescends to where people are, speaks their language, and employs their ways of thinking. Without God’s condescension—seen most clearly in the incarnation—any true knowledge of God would cease to exist (Kindle Locations 1578-1581).”
What do you think of Enns claim? Does God “condescend to culture” to communicate with humanity? What are some of the positive and negative connotations to this view of Scripture? What are some of the alternatives?