Genesis 1-11: a Plea for Hermeneutical Consistency

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Todd S. Beall, Ph.D. (toddbeall@gmail.com)
Professor of Old Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, MD Evangelical Theological Society
Nov 19, 2010
On March 24, 2010 BioLogos released an interview with Bruce Waltke in which he stated that for Christians to deny the reality of evolution would “make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world.”1 His remarks, actually taped during a November workshop, sparked a flurry of repercussions, culminating with Waltke’s resignation from the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando on April 6, 2010. That resignation has sparked outrage from many in the evangelical community who have denounced RTS as being too narrow-minded on this issue.2 The interpretation of Gen 1-11 has always been a contentious issue, a point which the events of the last seven months has underscored. There have always been a variety of interpretations of these chapters. But in the past 20 years there has been a noticeable shift in evangelical scholarship from a largely literal understanding of these chapters to a more figurative understanding such as Waltke’s that would allow for theistic evolution. This shift (or retreat, as I would probably label it!) is especially notable among professors in my discipline of OT studies.3

What is especially troubling to me is the statement or implication that those who read Gen 1-11 in a literal fashion are simplistic, naive, and unscholarly. Sometimes the person framing their current view begins by saying, “I used to believe that the Bible was talking about a literal 6-day creation, but. . . .” In the light of the person’s new understanding of the genre of Gen 1-11 or the ANE parallels, he or she now “sees the light,” and abandons the literal understanding for a figurative one. One can now join the mainstream of academia (both religious and scientific), uttering nice platitudes about how the Bible and evolution are not contradictory at all, and looking down upon those simpletons who haven’t yet reached Transcript of Biologos video interview, http://thedesignspectrum.1 wordpress.com/2010/04/10/ full-transcript-of-bruce-waltke-video-clip/. I have personally viewed the video, and the transcript is accurate. See also Waltke’s clarifying statement, contained in The Aquila Report (http://theaquilareport.com/index.php?option =com_content&view=article&id=1855:ot-professor-bruce-waltke-resigns-from-rts-orlando-faculty-amid-historical-a dam-and-eve-controversy). In this statement Waltke affirms that Adam and Eve are historical figures, but asserts that “creation by the process of evolution is a tenable Biblical position, and as represented by Biologos, the best Christian apologetic to defend Genesis 1-3 against its critics.”

2See for example, Michael Spenser Harmon, “The Waltke Waltz,” (http://churchedunchurched.wordpress .com/2010/04/09/the-waltke-waltz/): “The fact that someone so storied and so influential would be fired almost willy-nilly, based on an issue that is not a foundational one for the Christian faith, is absolutely incredulous. This isn’t even about the issue of scriptural inerrancy; it’s about a literal interpretation at all points. What is next: failure to believe that the bible has figurative language, or that the NLT is a perfectly valid translation? . . .My main concern is for RTS, where [Waltke] used to teach. When you make it your goal to nitpick, your community becomes very entrenched, self-centered, judgmental and on-the-fringe dangerous.” 3I had not realized the extent of the evangelical shift on this issue before researching the topic more thoroughly in 2008 in preparation for my chapter, “Contemporary Hermeneutical Approaches to Genesis 1-11,” in Terry Mortenson and Thane Ury, eds., Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (Green Forest, AZ: Master, 2008) 131-62. I consulted over 200 scholarly works, most by evangelical authors who did not hold that Gen 1-11 should be taken...
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