N.T. Wright on Genesis

As I mentioned last week, I have really been engaging with a lot of the resources available at the BioLogos website. This is an extremely helpful resource for Christians wanting to engage with understanding our faith, the Scripture and science.

As I said, I am ok with science informing our faith. All truth is God’s truth and, so, good science is God’s good truth. And science informing our faith, or beliefs about Scripture, has happened through the centuries. The greatest example is that of the 16th century when people like Copernicus and Galileo began to teach that we live in a heliocentric universe where the sun sits stationary in the middle and the planets revolve around it. This was contrary to the current geocentric opinion of the day that the earth was in the centre of the universe.

None of this was done to destroy the faith or what the Bible taught. Simply stated, the authors of Scripture were not able to engage with science like they were in the 16th century or even today. Thus, they described things as they saw them and understood them. It didn’t make them ‘wrong’ in the sense of making false statements in Scripture. Rather they were communicating truth within the context of their historical and cultural understanding of the world.

With regards to some of the issues of our understanding of Scripture, much discussion has centred around the early chapters of Genesis. Questions arise such as: Are the early chapters literal? Were Adam and Eve literal, historical figures? What is Genesis 1 teaching us about the ‘creation days’? And so on and so forth.

Below are two videos at the BioLogos website containing interviews with N.T. Wright on the the historicity of Adam & Eve as well as how the early chapters of Genesis related into the world of the New Testament times. Though the interviews are brief, I think some helpful light is shed on these issues.

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19 thoughts on “N.T. Wright on Genesis

  1. So Wright takes
    an entire 4 minutes and 55 seconds
    to say that
    Adam and Eve
    were not real historical individuals.

    Hmmm….

    You’d think he could
    have done that
    in 60 seconds or less.

    🙂

  2. I agree with Eric. He just eloquently denied the accuracy of the opening chapters of Scripture. Nothing new in sounding “spiritual” in order to justify not being Scriptural.

  3. Eric –

    He knows it is a delicate issue with many evangelicals. So to just make a statement is not always helpful. You have to consider ways to communicate that are more helpful. He knows it is sensitive, so he is looking to consider how to be sensitive to the issue.

    Wesley –

    N.T. Wright does not deny the accuracy of the opening chapters of Scripture. He believes they teach exactly what they were written to teach. But he is considering that they could be written in the genre we recognise as ‘myth’ and that the account is not a literal, historical record. By myth, no one means they are false, but that an account is given to communicate truth, and within the first chapters of Genesis, such truth is communicating the nature of our origins – who created, the nature of humanity, etc, etc.

    The thing is that we can easily claim that so and so is denying what Scripture teaches. But what we really mean is that so and so is denying what we think Scripture is teaching. I believe people like Wright, along with people like those at the BioLogos Forum, have very solid evidence for what they see in the early chapters of Genesis. A very helpful book on this topic would be one by the evangelical scholar, Peter Enns, entitled Inspiration and Incarnation.

  4. Wesley R says:
    September 15, 2010 at 12:12 am
    I agree with Eric. He just eloquently denied the accuracy of the opening chapters of Scripture. Nothing new in sounding “spiritual” in order to justify not being Scriptural.

    Well, I wouldn’t exactly call what Wright said, or how he said it, “eloquent.” It seemed to me like some obfuscatory around-the-bush beating in order to not say what he didn’t want to say while trying to give the impression that he was saying something.

    “What did he say?” would not be an inappropriate reaction, IMO.

  5. Eric –

    Here are some summary points for you, in case you aren’t catching what he is saying. 😉

    1. These issues really get caught up heavily in American theology. Not as huge issue as much in, say, Britain, and definitely not linked to political issues.
    2. Many think that the question of whether Genesis is history or myth, which also gets linked in with lists of other political and theological issues, is not that helpful. And many think that if you start wobbling on this issue (supposedly from the literalist view), then you are headed towards the slippery slope to the left. But that isn’t how it is or has to be.
    3. Genesis is like a Beethoven symphony and there are notes, but you have to catch the ‘bigger picture’ of what is going on, what is being played. So Gen 1-3 has something huge going on here, giving an account of how we understand ourselves as human beings, as community, etc.
    4. The mythological element gets misunderstood and people think that this means the text has not historical value. So it is possible we need to lighten up and think of other words to use in this discussion/debate.
    5. He recognises it does matter about a primal pair getting it wrong, etc, as the text explains. But he doesn’t mean this definitely has to point to a literalist view over the mythical view.
    6. He agrees with John Walton about the 6 days of Genesis being about how you make a temple/tabernacle, how it uses this terminology of how God wants to dwell with man, etc. This is how a Jewish person would read and understand a lot of it.
    7. We don’t have to flatten it out that this means the world was definitely made in 6 days.
    8. He believes six day literalism can be linked into a more dualistic view about how one day God is going to destroy this world and leave us hanging out in the clouds.
    9. Genesis 1 and 2 teaches us that this world is God’s abode and He will redeem it and rescue it.

    Hope those are some helpful highlighted points.

  6. Thanks for the outline/summary.

    Actually I understood what he was saying, and I also have and have read Enns’ book. I just think Wright in this clip appears guilty of imposing a modernist(?) way of reading Genesis 1-3 on the text (even if its informed by Biblical scholarship) while he is at the same time criticizing literalists for imposing THEIR views on the text.

    I guess we’ll never be able to ask Moses or the ancient Israelites or even Paul or Jesus how they understood Genesis 1-3, but I suspect they meant and took it more literally than mythically or as a “big picture.”

    If there was no literal, historical Adam and Eve, whether in this same earthly plane and/or time-space continuum or in some pre-Fall dimensionality, then I think we have to rethink not only Paul’s anthropology and soteriology and Christology but also whether or not he was correct in what he wrote about these things. In other words, I’m not sure Wright (or we) can have both Wright’s interpretation of Genesis and Paul, too.

  7. Eric –

    I like what Wright says here in a quote that I put up in an article today on my blog: ‘For too long we have read Scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It’s time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions.’

    This was in relationship to the discussion around justification.

    I suppose there is nothing wrong with asking 21st-century questions. Well, these questions have been around for a little while. Just now more out into the open of ‘popular’ writings, which is how I have come to read and study more about them recently.

    If there was no literal, historical Adam and Eve, whether in this same earthly plane and/or time-space continuum or in some pre-Fall dimensionality, then I think we have to rethink not only Paul’s anthropology and soteriology and Christology but also whether or not he was correct in what he wrote about these things.

    You see, this is what we think. We think if we believe A (that Adam/Eve were not literal, historical figures), then we assume B must also take place (that our soteriology and Christology will be threatened). To me, it is a little reactionary. Of course, I don’t suppose we have the perfect soteriology and Christology. We see through a cloudy and cracked lens, as I also share in my article today. But I don’t think that our soteriology or Christology has to be overly affected as we think, in that it will head too ‘liberal’ and ‘unbiblical’.

    To answer that question, I think Peter Enns shares some good insight in this video as well.

  8. ScottL:

    I’m not so much talking about being concerned about our soteriology and Christology and anthropology and hamartiology and/or about what we think about Adam and Eve, as about whether or not PAUL got his soteriology and Christology and anthropology and hamartiology correct.

  9. Enns admits that Paul assumed Adam and Eve were persons and the progenitors of the human race.

    In disagreement with Enns, I think if Paul was incorrect about Adam and Eve, his anthropology and soteriology and hamartiology and Christology are most likely wrong in some basic ways.

    I also think that N. T. Wright can’t have Paul’s doctrine of justification (whether the way Wright represents it or the more traditional Evangelical view(s)) as Paul presented it if Paul’s teachings and doctrines about Christ related to Adam and Eve are based on a fallacious understanding of Adam and Eve.

    I’m not saying I have firm ideas about these things. It’s just that the mythologizing of Adam and Eve in my opinion have profound effects on – and implications for – Pauline, and hence Evangelical/Christian, teachings.

  10. Eric –

    And Paul definitely got it correct within the confines of the historical moment he found himself in. But Paul also didn’t have the biological, geological and scientific studies we have available today. I don’t say that arrogantly that we have it ‘better’ than Paul. But Paul spoke within the confines of a particular culture and historical point, just as the OT saints did. The reason they would make certain statements is because of where the found themselves in history. But that makes sense – it was all incarnational, God making His word real in that culture and historical context.

    So, if Paul believed Adam was a real, factual, historical human, but in fact, Adam was more a mythic figure that stood as the embodiment of humanity ‘in the beginning’, then I don’t think things have to change theologically. We just think they do. Not to mention that, as some theologians believe the Pentateuch was finally and fully finished in the Babylonian exile, I think the Adam/Eve story speaks a lot to exilic Israelites. They had just been kicked out of their promised land for disobedience, in exile, etc. The parallels are amazingly connected with the Adam/Eve account.

  11. Eric –

    I also think that N. T. Wright can’t have Paul’s doctrine of justification (whether the way Wright represents it or the more traditional Evangelical view(s)) as Paul presented it if Paul’s teachings and doctrines about Christ related to Adam and Eve are based on a fallacious understanding of Adam and Eve.

    And this is where I think we can be too reactionary. We think it has this affect, but it does not have to. Just as the early chapters of Genesis are the true word of God even if they are in the myth category, so Romans remains the God-breathed word even if Adam was not a literal and actual historical figure. Why can’t we be ok with that? Why do we have to swing the pendulum so far?

    I can imagine in the 16th century when they were, for the first time, arguing for a heliocentric view of the universe. I am sure many argued that this, then, cuts hard at our view of Scripture, our view of God (since He is the Creator), etc, etc. But we know it doesn’t. So I don’t believe we have to swing the pendulum so far and say A always leads to B in these issues.

  12. No real individual Adam (or Eve).
    No real physical Garden.
    No actual eating of the fruit of a real and physical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad.
    No real talking Serpent.
    No actual command from YHWH Elohim not to eat.
    No real disobedience.
    No real “Fall.”

    Just a story of how humanity grew up and put away childish things.

    What am I missing?

  13. Eric –

    I encourage you not to think it leads to that. We say it does. We think it does. We accuse others who don’t agree with us that it will lead that way. But it doesn’t have to.

    When will we listen and not accuse. But you might enjoy joining in with the graciousness of Frank Turk over at Pyromaniacs. Always stirs my heart more towards Jesus.

  14. But how can it not lead to that?

    FWIW, I’m not being accusatory or ungracious or judgmental or negative, just calling the cards as I see them fall/lay. I think there are real and perhaps insurmountable problems in accepting Paul and Pauline theology (including Christology, hamartiology, soteriology, anthropology, etc.) as being authoritative and correct if there was no Adam (and Eve).

    Maybe all Paul has given us is how a 1st-century Christian understands Christ and salvation. Right in some things, wrong in others.

    Maybe what he says the Incarnation and Resurrection are about is not what they’re about.

  15. But if “that whole problem which started way back” never really occurred the way the Scriptures say it happened, then there was no Genesis 1&2 problem to put back on track, because it was never derailed – in fact, it never occurred – in the first place.

    Per King Agrippa in Acts 26:28: “In a short time N. T. Wright will persuade me not to remain a Christian.” 🙂

  16. Eric –

    I do understand your concerns. You know, I really am ok either way with the Adam issue. He could be a literal, factual, historical character. Or I think he could be a person within the account representing whomever was the first human being/man, as well as representing humanity being named ‘adam. For me, either is ok. And I believe all of what Paul teaches in Romans 5, and especially about the second Adam, who was the true human on behalf of humanity.

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