Brian Bull and Fritz Guy Discuss Genesis 1 and Modern Science (Part 5)

Via Negativia. This term in its strictest sense refers to describing God by making clear what God is not. It more generally means banishing falsehoods on any topic before articulating the truth as one best understands it. The first is removing the stumps and boulders from the building site and the second is constructing the house.

It will be helpful to keep this distinction in mind as Brian Bull and Fritz Guy present for the fifth and final time about their book God, Sky & Land: Genesis 1 as the Ancient Hebrews Heard It. They rightly believe that we cannot know what Genesis 1 means until we understand what it doesn't mean, and that we can understand this only if we grasp what it meant to those who first heard it.

Moshe, the hypothetical person they portray as being among those who first heard this story, might seem by our standards to have been intellectually and aesthetically challenged. Even if this is so, Genesis 1 was polished and re-polished every time its story was told and retold down through no one knows how many generations. By the time of the Babylonian Captivity and thereafter, it had become a magnificent work of art which challenged the creation stories of their captors.

Scholars were first impressed by the similarities between Genesis 1 and the Babylonian creation stories. Now many of them are giving more equal attention to their differences. This scholarly article discusses these differences. Don’t get bogged down in the details. The article's overall view of things is what matters.

Now, enjoy Bull and Guy’s final presentation!

Watch Brian Bull and Fritz Guy on "Genesis 1 and Modern Science" (Part 5):

This discussion occurred at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) class in Loma Linda, California on April 14, 2018.

You can find God, Sky & Land: Genesis 1 as the Ancient Hebrews Heard It, as well as Bull and Guy’s second book, God, Land, and the Great Flood: Hearing the Story with 21st Century Christian Ears, on Amazon.

If you missed Bull and Guy’s earlier presentations, you can watch them here:

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I can understand that a Sabbath School class in the area where Bull and Guy are influential personalities would give them five opportunities to present their reconstruction of the Genesis stories of creation, and that Spectrum, as the publisher of their book would like to see as many copies of the book sold. Unfortunately their book makes its argument based on a hypothesis advanced by John Walton that depends on the Platonic distinction between matter and form. There is no doubt that the original hearers of the stories of creation in Genesis were unable to make such a distinction. For them all real things are material. The Hebrew of the Old Testament lacks abstracts nouns, and the Platonic notion of “form” is an abstraction. The story of the creation of man does not say that God took dust of the ground and gave it form and it became a “living soul” (person). It says that God breathed into already formed matter and it became a living person. When that person died, the OT says that the soul died. Just as the ancient Hebrews did not think of the soul as a Platonic abstraction, they did not think of shape as a Platonic form. Because they did not conceive abstractions, the Hebrews located psychic and emotional activity in physical organs: the will is in the heart, the emotions in the belly, determination in the arm and intentions in the hand. Nothing could not be attached to matter.
John Walton introduced the distinction of matter and form in order to satisfy contemporary evangelicals who need to ascribe historicity to the creation stories in Genesis. By ascribing this Platonic distinction to the original hearers of these stories, Bull and Guy’s reconstruction of the original hearers suffers from blatant anachronism.

In my previous post I failed to specify that I agree with Bull and Guy that any hermeneutic, either grammatical of critical, must begin with a historical reconstruction of the message the author was delivering and the original audience understood to be in the text.
Also, the ananchronism in their reconstruction of what the original audience understood is even more blatant if one thinks that the author of the creation stories in Genesis was Moses, who, according to Adventist chronology, was a Hebrew of the XV century B.C.E. or if one believes, as Gerhard Hassel said in writing and the First Fundamental Belief now makes it official Adventist doctrine, the author of the text was God. It has been a tragic Fall for Adventist officialdom to abandon the traditional Adventist doctrine of inspiration and take up Evangelical insistence on an infallible biblical text.

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Having not read John Walton, I can’t comment on whether or how much they used him and therefore incorporated a dualism between form and matter. I hope that we don’t leave the impression that those who ,around the time of the Babylonian captivity, brought together these stories were bad scientists when in fact they were good artists. From a completely differently angle, I think that concern for original hearers and authorial intent deserves some protection these days. Changing subjects again: Roy Branson died exactly three years ago next Sabbath.

Is it necessary to say that those who brought these stories together around the time of the Babylonian captivity were neither bad nor good scientists? There was no such thing as science back then. That they were good theologians, there is no doubt.

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Agreed. And good political philosophers, in my view.