“Retro Translating” the Genesis Origin Stories

The new Adult Bible Study Guide focuses on the book of Genesis.  


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11731
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Great books, especially the first one! I just got another copy of the first one as I’d given the last one away.

Unfortunately, their retro-translation is based on John Walton’s earlier work (a professor at fundamentalist Wheaton College). He argued that the Genesis account is based on a distinction between mater and form. On that basis, the creation account in Genesis describes how pre-existing matter was given form. This, of course, is blatantly anachronistic. The ancient Hebrews knew nothing about matter without form. That distinction was introduced by Greek philosophers in the fifth century B.C. E. Trying to give some kind of “scientific” accuracy to what is obviously not at all a descriptive narrative in Genesis 1, but a formulaic structure to give the Sabbath a cosmic rather than a historical grounding (Deut. 5), is a bridge to nowhere.

The schizoid attitude a lot of Christians have toward science may be cleared up by including the “laws” by which science operates as being also part of creation. Strictly speaking, man didn’t make scientific laws - man “discovered” them.

More than anything, our amazement of scientific progress should better be directed to how the human brain has been able to find out these natural laws that have created modern medicine as well as modern technologies. If we accept the wonders of modern medicine as God directed, we need to also accept the science that over-rides a seven-day, literal creation. This also gets God off the hook for standing idly by when natural catastrophes occur. The fact that hundreds of people die from earthquakes and tsunamis isn’t God’s doing, but ours, for building our communities on fault lines and shorelines.

They said, “There is a disconnect between Genesis and science. They are not in conflict because it is about two different subjects. They had no concept of nature or its laws. Our world is obsessed with science. They were not concerned with science. Property speaking they were not talking about science.”

Like the question of whether mathematics is created or discovered, a question with mathematicians taking sides, the issue of laws being created or discovered is not to be answered in the affirmative either way. David Hume argued that what some call laws were observations of custom, and there is no necessity in custom. Physicist, Lee Smolin argues that laws of universe, themselves came into being in time by pre-causal factors. The question comes out looking not like a purely epistemological, but an ontological one as well.

Had to go to “Miriam - Webster” for this one, but it was no help. The way I see it is that the laws of nature (and math) are man made laws based on observations of relationships. They work until some other phenominon changes the observation.

There are two main theories of origins in the west, the Creation story, and Old earth evolution, chance being the hero of the second one. A combination of the two, believed by most Christians is a cross of the two ideas, detracting from both, really. And Evolution does not get God off the hook. If he did it that way, he is indeed an ogre of the highest order, using torture to create his creatures.

Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” And evolution by chance is such an extraordinary claim. To believe it all happened by chance requires evidence that it could. Such evidence is totally lacking, thus by Sagan’s Standard, it fails. There is evidence for evolution in the record as interpreted by the paleontologists, and the radio dating etc., but there are some work arounds. We do not see macro evolution acting in the world at this time.

The Creation Story is elegant and crisp. The problem is time, as the earth appears old.

To believe God did it by evolution is to besmirch his character. All that death? And death before sin? And no disobedience at the beginning, so man is not responsible? You undermine most all doctrines of scripture by accepting evolution as God’s method of creating. It just does not work.

I would say discovered. The laws are too complex to have come into existence by chance. Photosynthesis takes advantage of some quantum laws. Just too complex for chance by a long hot.

So yes, oenological.

Up front - I don’t argue for a random evolution; but for a directed development through the laws of nature laid down by God. These laws are the same now, as they were at creation - unless there were two separate creations.

Secondly - The Talmud likens the translation of the Hebrew Bible into other languages to “a lion locked in a cage” (the science of God - Gerald Schroeder) - meaning, no culture and language, other than the Hebrew, is able to understand the full meaning of the OT Scriptures. What we have in our Scriptures is the basic information given in Hebrew. The rest has to be through faith and logic - also a God-given attribute of humans.

Third - Creation is a faith statement, not open to scientific proof.

Fourth - The logic of following natural law:

1- The original creation established day and night. Some animals need the darkness of night to grow and flourish; the rest of creation, including mankind, need night in which to sleep. Sleep, itself, is restorative to the human body. What needed to be restored for Adam? What would have happened if Adam never slept? If he never ate?

2- If nothing died in the original creation, what was the function of bacteria?

3- Did the physiology of some meat-eating animals change (canine teeth - frog’s tongues - camouflage for some animals - purpose of beaks and claws). How would the insect population (or any population growth) have been controlled?

4- human biology is based on death at the cellular level - purpose of the immune system.

Due to time constraints I won’t belabour the point.

There are two kinds of death in the Bible - physical and spiritual. Adam did not physically die immediately after he sinned; but the trajectory of his spiritual state of mind was toward a death beyond the physical - the everlasting death.

The argument that God would not let an “evolution” based on death and pain is debatable. God sees death and pain since sin entered, but is waiting for mankind to struggle (evolve) its way into a spiritual life.

One other point - “living forever” seems to have been dependant on the “tree of life” in the garden. This is why Adam and Eve were banished. If they had had access to the tree of life they may have lived forever in sin. It must then be assumed that it was the tree of life that gave Adam and Eve eternity. The animal kingdom excluded.

The problem is that the Genesis story says that God told them that they would die immediately.
But they didn’t die for about a millennium.

EGW used to defend herself with the argument that “Bible writers did such-and-such”. All that tells us is that nobody–even the authors of what we call “scripture”–produced error-free writings.

(Read Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman)

Fred Veltman interrupted his duties as head of the theology department at PUC to spend several years–full time-- studying the nature of EGW’s “borrowing” from other people’ writings.

He summarized in Ministry magazine that even more serious than her copying was her denial of copying. He had reasons to believe that her admissions of borrowing without credit were “too little and too late”. …and probably not written by her, anyway!

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The creation story, as well as the beasts of “Revelation” are all symbolic. Simplistic ways of expressing ideas. When we have faith in the inerrency of the Bible, we are actually saying we trust the Bible writers to tell us the truth. When it comes to Genesis, it’s dealing with subjects of which the writers could have had no direct knowledge, nor the vocabulary to express the concepts involved.

Interpreting scripture, there are several levels of interpretation. When we take the story as written, it has to have cohesion as to cause and effect within context; so, when God said Adam would die if he ate the fruit, but he didn’t - and then later it says Adam was barred from the “tree of life”, we have to assume (within the context of the story) Adam began to age, at that point, and would ultimately die. On another level, if we employ science (which they didn’t have) we run into all kinds of problems like Adam living hundreds of years. Clearly, this is a cultural story of how the world came into being. We miss the point if we try to make an ancient story adhere to basic modern science - and the point is, God ordered the existence of the universe. It’s useless to argue how He did that. If we could know that, we would be equal to God in intelligence. This is how we communicate with children on topics they aren’t equipped to understand. It’s not about error-free writing, it’s about a different type of writing. It’s a poetic description of how the world came into being - not a scientific report.

About Ellen White - relying on her writings is to have faith that she spoke for God. I’ve never been able to bring myself to that point. I’m just thankful my ultimate fate is not dependent on that kind of faith.

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“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Genesis 1:5
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

I think the Bible is clear 6 days is all it took. I think its silly there are those who think God who can do anything couldn’t create it all in 6 literal days.

“and on the 7th day God rested” a day is even to even sun down to sun down. Its pretty clear.

You’ve added the “sabbath” that isn’t there in the original, or in my bible either.

The NIV reads:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” - Gen 2:2-3

Also, in the original Hebrew, there is no mention of the sabbath. There is only “the day seventh”, phrased just like “the day first”, “the day second” and so on. There is no mention of a sabbath in the entire book of Genesis.

The first mention of the sabbath is in Exodus within the manna story, in chapter 16. However, then later in chapter 20 we find Yahweh giving the Israelites the sabbath. So, some think the stories are out of order. It is described in Deuteronomy 5 “The Ten Commandments”, this way: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that Yahweh your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Yahweh your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”

This is directly from the King James and it was translated from the Textus Recepticus or the Received Text and it reads
Exodus 20:11
“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

The NIV bible is from what I believe to be a corrupt text. NIV is a version of the Bible approved by the Vatican and its AntiChrist Papacy.

Yes, Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day at Horeb. That’s the first mention of it in the bible. Out of thin air, it would seem. It’s no wonder that the Hebrews ignored the advise to collect 2x the manna on the 6th day. They didn’t understand - since they’d never kept a Sabbath before.

Yes, creation is one of the reasons given, though the delivery from slavery makes more sense as relayed in Deuteronomy - in the final version of the 10 commandments - and also some scholars think that the Exodus reason, harkening back to the creation story, was added later. Some early manuscripts don’t include it.

Oh wow! Well that just not true. It’s not corrupt, but instead uses better sources than the KJV translators had on hand. In any case, that it is approved by the Vatican is hardly damning. If anything it’s a good thing. Notably, the KJV wasn’t meant to be a study bible, but instead was written in standard English - of the time - and intended to be read out loud in church. The preface to the KJV, among other things, laments that it is unfortunate that the Catholic Church’s scholars refused to create an English version of the bible - as they would have done a better job. They also strongly advised using multiple translations when studying the bible in English - to try to get the best meaning of the original.

I should have probably quoted the NRSV, though, which is considered a better translation by scholars - one of the best.

In any case, you can always read the original - or at least a transliteration of it, and compare it to an English version. You’ll probably be surprised how much is sometimes added during translation: Deuteronomy 5 Interlinear Bible

Here’s a link to an interesting lecture, “Bart Ehrman: What Kind of a Text is the King James Bible?”
www. youtube .com/watch?v=ehnEZtqj2Mo

"That’s just not true it uses better sources than the KJV’ That’s what the AntiChrist Papacy says also. Not shocked that the world has forsaken the truth.

I’m fine with being in agreement with “the Papacy”.

So, your position is that if biblical scholars recommend a translation of the bible, but some of those those scholars belong to the wrong strain of Christianity, then the recommendation detracts from that translation?

I propose then that you cannot use any translation, since at some point a person who you don’t agree with either helped select the manuscripts to use, actually translated the text with their theology in mind, possibly altering it, or praised the result as a good translation.

Like the KJV, for example, because the translators used manuscripts that were compiled by the Catholic theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam.

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But that is the problem. Ev. theory demands the death of countless billions of creatures by torture for “progress.”. “Nature red in tooth and claw.” What does that reveal about the character of God?

I understand the problems for Creationists of the teeth and claws etc. that are evident today. But Paul says, “By man came death.” ( 1 Corinthians 15:21). And if it was not man, but by God that death came. then Paul is gravely mistaken. And what about the promise of resurrection if death was built in at the beginning, and what God used to create diversity? How could Paul call it an enemy? Can you actually look at nature and say that the death and pain that we see is “very good”? I once saw a video of lions eating a zebra alive. I could not call that good, nor a child dying of leukemia. If that is what God made, he doesn’t to deserve worship, but contempt.

Evolution undermines the basic doctrines of Scripture, destroys them actually. There is clearly adaptation in nature to different circumstances, but macro evolution is a bridge too far. The apparent age of the earth is the biggest problem.

But to accept evolution as God’s method is to really change his basic character. Most Christians hold the two contradictory ideas without much mental anguish, but Ev. is really incompatible with Scripture.

Jesus was a fisherman.

I know, it’s hard to imagine. All of nature is based on predation. The lovely bird songs in the spring and the night sounds near a pond are all about survival - created by God. Animals have physical characteristics fashioned according to their diet. I don’t believe archeologists have found fossils or bones of tigers without teeth meant for tearing flesh, or blunt-nosed eagles. Our nature hikes on Sabbath afternoons are all about getting out into nature, but we don’t see the dark side. Yet, the biological systems that are in place could not have “evolved” either, especially in only six thousand years. Something els4e is going on.

My problem is that, according to SDA explanations, God is waiting for “His” special people to perfect themselves (evolve) so He can rescue the planet. While He’s waiting, humanity is tearing itself apart in no less of a fierce way than evolution depicts creation. (Disclaimer: I don’t believe that.)

Short answer - I don’t know how that worked. The whole idea that all natural laws changed because of that “apple/pomegranate” doesn’t make sense either.

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Wasn’t he a carpenter…?

Nature is ambiguous. Beauty abounds, the sky is ever changing and the light playing on the clouds through the day, and the beauty of the night, especially in a place of utter darkness are truly delightful. And the design of the internal workings of the cell seem to show a master craftsman at work. As Hoyle said,

A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.

But as you say, there is a dark side. Death reigns, the rule of tooth and claw. The earth appears old, and the ages seem filled with death.

I believe the Scriptures temper that appearnce. That God sent his Son to die, experiencing personally that very death speaks to his knowledge of the problem, and his willingness to deal with it, and gain the victory over it. Death wasn’t part of the creation, but an evil intruder. And it has been dealt with (Revelation 1:17,18).

Without this there is no hope, and to accept death as part of God’s will is to allow the devil into his character. That is blasphemy.

But you then bring up this idea of God waiting for his people to perfect themselves so he can come rescue them. I don’t see that as an SDA explanation.

Frist, we cannot perfect ourselves, it is God that perfects us if we are willing, imputing his righteousness. Second, God knows when he will send Jesus. (Matt 24:36). I see the “rescue” operation as something we can hasten (2 Peter 3:12), but that if we are not in tune with God, the operation will proceed without us. Christ warns us to observe the signs and be ready, not think that we are the main focus.

As far as the laws of the universe changing with sin, to believe it all came about by chance also makes no sense either. So the conundrum. But I think theistic evolution does injustice to the character of God.