5.5 Theology and Interpretation
The Theology of Genesis
The Priestly source “emphasizes the continuity of God’s care for Israel.” This is expressed in certain pervasive themes: God’s blessing (Genesis 1:28 provides the first of four important blessings within the overall Priestly narrative: “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'”); God’s word (God’s important involvements with the world” are expressed through his spoken words, throughout the “And God said”
Meredith G. Kline and Henri Blocher after St. Augustine of Hippo, argue that the “Creation week” narrative should be read as a monotheistic polemic on creation theology directed against pagan creation myths with the sequence of events leading to the establishment of the Sabbath.
The Yahwist writer expresses his theology through speeches of Yahweh placed at decisive points in the story. Six of the eight major speeches in Genesis occur in the “primeval history,” the first being the speech at Genesis 2:16-17 prohibiting the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. These stories mean that man will fail if he tries to become as God (the Eden story, repeated in the Flood story and again in the Tower of Babel story). But God is merciful, and selects a people who will be his own (the promise to Abraham at Genesis 12, which is the fulcrum of the Yahwist history. “Abraham, and hence David and all Israel were chosen to be an instrument of blessing: ‘Through you all families of the earth shall bless themselves/be blessed”.
Biblical literalism springs from the belief that should one element of the biblical narrative be shown to be untrue, and then all others will follow, leading to loss of belief in the central tenet of Christian faith, the Resurrection of Christ. Thus a literal genre -Genesis as history- is substituted for the symbolic -Genesis as theology- and the text is placed in conflict with science. The most extreme literalists are at least consistent, believing that the seven “days” of Genesis 1 correspond to normal 24-hour days. Day age creationists are more willing to reconcile their religious beliefs with modern thinking on the origins of the universe; they believe that each “day” represents an “age” of perhaps millions or even billions of years.
But it is evolution which is the particular bugbear of biblical literalism: all literalists read Genesis 2 as history, holding that God literally breathed into the nostrils of a being formed out of dust, turning it into a living man; there was a literal Garden of Eden with a literal Tree of Life; a literal couple (Adam and Eve) ate a literal forbidden fruit at the urging of a talking serpent; and Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and barred from re-entering it by a literal flaming sword.