Reading Genesis 1-2

568882There are few passages of scripture which engender so much debate as the first few chapters of Genesis. Unfortunately, much of the debate seems to create more heat than light, with entrenched positions merely being repeated and backed up by reference to other works from within those same hermeneutical trenches. This recent book seeks to bring some of that much-needed light to the debate on how Genesis 1 and 2 can, and perhaps should, be interpreted. The book is the fruit of a symposium on interpreting Genesis and is an extremely valuable contribution to the debate amongst evangelicals on the nature and meaning of these foundational chapters.
The book allows scholars from five different hermeneutical perspectives, who all hold to a high view of scripture, to present their positions, which are then critiqued by the other writers. It is a format that has been used successfully before, and is so used on this occasion. Despite the passion with which each writer holds their views, the debate is overwhelmingly irenic with only short passages that deteriorate into polemic. The open and frank exchange of views was refreshing and, along with the clear presentation of each of the positions, it has encouraged me to go back to the text and consider it anew.
The writers involved include some of the leading Old Testament scholars of our age and the depth and breadth of scholarship displayed is exciting but never overwhelming. On occasions, the discussion of some of the details of Hebrew syntax and grammar – especially when this is a pivotal area of disagreement in interpretation – can be confusing rather than enlightening for those of us without the same knowledge of the language. However, these times are rare and should not discourage anyone without a knowledge of Hebrew from reading the book.
The final chapter raises issues to do with Genesis 1 and 2 that include New Testament use of the passages and encourages us all to engage with trying to answer some of the important questions that arise from our interpretation of them. But for me, as a lecturer in a Bible College who is soon to teach our second year class on Genesis 1-11, and will be launching a series on Genesis in my local church in the New Year, the discussion has proved immensely useful. Perhaps especially chapter 6 which tackles how we can teach these chapters in such a way that the reliability and authority of scripture is maintained and emphasised while still dealing with the honest, thoughtful and scholarly differences in interpretation that there are amongst fellow evangelicals.

Charles JD (ed), 2013, Reading Genesis 1-2 An Evangelical Conversation, Hendrickson Publishers, ISBN: 9781598568882

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