Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Genesis Story

Narrative and Myth:

The initial narrative of Scripture rightfully addresses the issue of the origins of the earth and mankind. This particular narrative has come under much scrutiny and study by both those who interpret the passage in a literal sense, and those who view the passage primarily as a literary passage. Endless debate ensues as to the historicity of the story, which normally conjoins itself to a discussion about the reliability, truthfulness, or inerrant nature of the Scriptures.

If we understand the Scriptures as the grand narrative of the working of God in the world throughout history, how are we to understand the Genesis account?

Our cultural/contextual reading of the story of Genesis fundamentally influences the problem of interpretation. When we attempt to conform the story of Genesis into our rational world of historical fact, we import meaning into an ancient text that may not be necessarily the intent of the author. While historicity of the account is certainly a key issue, what if we focus instead on how the narrative of Genesis fits within the grand story of Scripture, informing, shaping, and molding how we read the rest of Scripture.

N.T. Wright has recently said that when we take Genesis out of its ancient Jewish context, we flatten out the story, instead focusing on sidebar issues such as historicity and truthfulness, instead of recognizing the narrative as a true myth, one that informs and capitalizes on human experience, giving humans archetypal origins that transcend beyond the five senses. Wright goes on to say:

“To flatten that [the text of Genesis] out is to almost perversely avoid the real thrust of the narrative … we have to read Genesis for all its worth and to say either history or myth is a way of saying 'I’m not going to read this text for all its worth, I am just going to flatten it out so that it conforms to the cultural questions that my culture today is telling me to ask.”

At its heart the story of Genesis is the typical experience of all human beings. We are all prone to fail, to turn against God. We are all living in exile in this world separated from God because of our insistence to live independent lives. If we continue to read the story of Genesis as the basis of all human experience, and as the beginning of the narrative of Scripture that emphasizes exile and deliverance from that exile, we cease to argue over the historicity of the story, and we begin to ask the question: How would the original hearers have understood this story, and interpreted it in light of their experiences with God.

This way of reading Genesis will almost certainly inspire the question of truthfulness, because we are so informed by a rational understanding of our world where myth = false. But if we are able to suspend those objections for a moment, we will be able to read Genesis in a new light, possibly allowing us to view Scripture in a new way, connecting the story of Genesis to the remainder of Scripture.

Is the narrative of Genesis true? Absolutely, just maybe not the way we think of something being true. If we begin with a reading of Genesis that allows us to move beyond modern questions we may find new connections with the rest of the Scriptural narrative.

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