Literary Genre in the Bible, Part 2
“Is everything in the Bible true?”
This question is frequently asked as readers find that scripture is apparently in conflict with science. There is no conflict between science and Scripture, simply because Scripture was never intended to be read as a scientific explanation of the world around us.
If one reads Gen 1 – 3 as a scientific explanation of creation one ends up with nonsense. The first problem is that there are two stories explaining creation. Gen 1: 1 – 2: 4a is the first story in the Bible. This story closes with, “Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation.” This seems quite satisfactory until one reads on.
“At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens while as yet there was no field shrub on the earth and no grass …”
Something is wrong! Is God starting all over again, what he has just finished?
The problems multiply. In the first story God creates humanity last but in the second story humanity is created first, “the Lord God formed man out of clay”. (Gen 2: 7)
Surely God does not have such a poor memory that he had forgotten what he had inspired the other writer to put down. What has gone wrong? There is nothing wrong with these two stories. The problem lies with us when we read them as eye-witness accounts. This happened to Bishop James Usher (a non-catholic) in the 16th century. He ‘discovered from the text that Adam and Eve were created on Sunday 23 October 4004 BC at 09:00. He failed to mention whether this was New York, London or South African standard time! Do not be too tough on Bishop Usher. The Roman Martyrology put the time of Adam and Eve’s creation at 5199 BC.
In Gen 1-11 the writers used the literary genre (form) of myth. These are works of fiction. Creation certainly did not take place in the manner described in Genesis. However, and this is important, these stories carry a profound truth – “God is the Creator”. This is a value that we need to accept. There is no way it can be proved or disproved. This is a truth that exists within the core of our being.
We will now discuss these two stories in more detail. Scholars tell us that the first story
(Gen 1) was written round about 500 BC and the second (Gen 2) 1000 BC. They can deduce this from the form of the Hebrew used in the early copies that we have.
The English used by Chaucer 700 years ago is very different to the English I am using..
Here is a table illustrating some of the differences in the two stories.
The story in Gen 1: 1 – 2: 4a was written by a priest who would naturally speak of “heaven and earth.” In the other story the farmer’s interest is firstly the land so he writes “earth and heaven.”
The story of Gen 1 follows the pattern of building a house.
Sunday: Light created
Tuesday: Sea – Dry land – Vegetation
Wednesday: Two great lights to decorate the sky.
Thursday: Water decorated with fish
Friday: The Land is decorated with animals.
Now that the ‘house” is complete it is time to bring in the family – humanity is created.
“Male and female he created them – in his image.” Gen 1: 27
This is the Myth, presented in poetry, with a profound truth behind the text.