Friday, January 18, 2008


"Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread". -Alexander Pope. Thus, fool that I am, I will boldly "rush in" and introduce Genesis to our regular Scripture Study class, beginning Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. in the Parish Hall. It will no doubt be an exciting journey. Deception, rebellion, human sexuality, betrayal, fratricide, murder...and that's just the first four chapters of human history! Who really needs tabloids, when we have Genesis?!

Seriously though, our approach to Scripture Study will be informed by patristic commentators, courtesy of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. What a wonderful series it is. If I merely had to present my own opinions, I would be hard pressed to do so, nor would I want to. I also am going to be able to draw upon some resources I received at Seminary, where we were presented with various, complimentary approaches to Scripture (ranging from patristic to modern/critical) and given tools to navigate some parts that have turned out to be controversial. I recently looked through the large 3-ring binder from the semester when I learned about the Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), and I was struck by an expression used then by my teacher: "geopolitics". The Penteteuch is geopolitical for it is largely taken up with the formation of a nation (Israel) in its land. Genesis is the introductory chapter to the Penteteuch and is crucial in setting the stage for God's action in history for his people.

Many people try to inject controversy into Chapter 1 of Genesis. Some line up on the side of a literal interpretation of the 6-days, and others try to reconcile it with evolution theory. This controversy is far from new, and people thought about these issues in patristic times. It is really not necessary to try and read Genesis like a biology textbook. St. Jerome noted that Moses describes Creation "as a poet" would describe it. Nemesius of Emesa hits the nail on the head when he writes, "Even if it is granted that the God of all things followed an order [in the creation], he is shown to be God and Creator and to have brought all things into being out of nothing."

This is the crux of the matter for us. No Anglican Christian is required to take up a firm position on exactly how long it took for God to create the universe, nor to be able to describe how he did it in technical terms. I myself am content to say that ultimately I don't know how long it took. However, every Anglican Christian must believe that God did create the universe, that he created out of nothing, and that he is separate from his creation. This of course is set forth in our creeds: the Apostles and the Nicene.

That there is a God, and that he did create the universe and all its life-forms, is basic to the Christian faith. He designed all things and brought them into being. I think it was probably achieved partly outside of time, in the sense that we know time (with sunrise and sunset and revolutions of Earth around the Sun). I remain skeptical about the 6-Day account being interpreted as a scientific description, if only because Chapters 1 & 2 seem to set forth contradictory accounts of the order and timing of events. With St. Jerome, I see it as poetical, like an epic poem. On the other hand, I confess that I am equally skeptical of Evolution theory, because it seems to me that there are so many gaps and problems there, with scientists saying in essense, "just trust us, it's true."

There. I have now positively offended everyone on both sides of the issue.

Fortunately we won't need to have a brawl over creation or evolution in our Scripture Study, because none of us are scientists. (with the notable exception of Deacon Ed, who has a Ph. D. in physics, and who has published scientific papers) We'll just have to be content with familiarity with the text, for that is exciting enough!