July 20, 2018

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible- by John Polkinghorne, Chapter 3- Creation and Fall

Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible – by John Polkinghorne

Chapter 3- Creation and Fall

What is the genre of the opening chapters of Genesis?  What type of literature is it?  Even the most convinced young earth creationist admits that the Psalms are not to be taken “literally”; that figurative language and the language of metaphor is used often in the Scriptures.  Even Jesus made up stories (that’s what parables are) to get his point across.  Does anyone believe that if a certain man didn’t go down from Jerusalem to Jericho, was attacked by bandits and left for dead, and was cared for by a Samaritan, if that didn’t happen “literally”; then Jesus had no right to tell us “go and do likewise”.  You will notice carefully, that in verse 30, Jesus does NOT say this is a parable, he tells it like it really happened.   So back to my original question; who gets to decide what genre any certain passage of Scripture is?

One way to answer that question is to appeal to the record of the Church.  Most YEC, like Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis , like to say the Church has always taken the early chapters of Genesis literally.  That is not strictly true as the following quotes show:

For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally” – Origen (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

“The first seven days in the divine arrangement contain seven thousand years” – St. Cyprian (Treatises 11:11 [A.D. 250]).

“Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent. . . . The nights in this reckoning are considered to be component parts of the days that are counted. Therefore, just as there is a single revolution of time, so there is but one day. There are many who call even a week one day, because it returns to itself, just as one day does, and one might say seven times revolves back on itself” – St. Ambrose of Milan (Hexaemeron [A.D. 393]).

 

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” – St. Augustine of Hippo (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).

Polkinghorne says:

In fact, from the earliest Christian centuries it was recognized that Genesis is not giving a literal account.  People noted that light was created on the first day but the sun, moon, and stars, the apparent sources of light, only appeared on the fourth day.  The Church fathers, such as Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa, understood that the “days” of creation could not be literal 24 hours and some considered that they might stand for vast expanses of time.  In fact, the late creation of the heavenly bodies in the narrative illustrates the theological character of Genesis 1.  In the ancient world, sun, moon, and stars were often worshipped as deities.  Genesis is at pains to make it clear that they are merely creatures, appearing rather late on the scene in order to indicate their properly subordinate status.  That is why Genesis does not use the proper names, Sun and Moon, which were also the names of pagan deities, but refers simply to the greater and the lesser lights.

The much older story of Genesis 2 is even more obviously mythical in its character, meaning by “myth” not a fairy story but a truth so deep that only story can convey it.

Not a fairy story but a truth so deep that only story can convey it.  In researching this post, I spent some time looking up various rules and guides for assessing genre in literature.  One guide , for 5th graders, was:

  1. Fantasy- a story including elements that are impossible such as talking animals…

And another category was:

  1. Traditional Literature- stories that are passed down from one group to another in history like, folktales, legends, fables, fairy tales, myths.

This brilliant comment, by Chaplain Mike, in my last post on Denis Lamoreaux’s book, expresses the ancient use of story as genre perfectly:

Why couldn’t the ancients, who did not have this modernistic mindset, have built their faith upon stories and poems and other kinds of literature that gave them their identity and helped them know God?

I think that’s exactly what they did, passing these stories down from generation to generation, and at times throughout their history editing and adapting these stories and even adding others to communicate to new generations. That’s not to say there is no historical core to these stories — there very well may be and I happen to think there is. But that does not mean we have to defend what are obviously ancient stories written according to ancient literary forms and genres as some modern kind of journalistic reporting.

This does not “deny the authority of Paul, Peter and John” because the mere fact that someone refers back to a story as fundamental and formative to faith does not mean that they accepted it as the kind of historically precise reporting you think is required. The “truthfulness” of scripture is not dependent upon nor does it equate to the historical factual precision of scripture.

Assuming that one is at least as smart as a 5th grader, it seems apparent that the early chapters of Genesis were written with an agenda; to offer important theological insights by means of the story it tells.  Important theological insights such as:

  1. God alone is to be worshipped as divine. The divine worship of sun gods, moon gods, river gods, and so on is negated in that these are merely the creations of the one divine God.
  2. Humanity’s place within nature. Man was not created to be a slave for the gods, but as bearing the divine image and therefore as God’s representatives.
  3. Creation is portrayed as a process (the six days), not a divine battle between competing gods. A process that happens at God’s bidding with nature having its own part to play i.e. “Let the earth bring forth… (vv. 11, 20, and 24).

So what is the genre of the early chapters of Genesis?  As I said in an earlier post on Science and the Bible , the most respectful reading we can give to the text, and the most “literal” understanding, is the one that comes from their world, not ours.  The artistry of the early chapters are stunning and, to ancient readers, unmistakable. It casts the creation as a work of art, sharing in the perfection of God and deriving from him. My point is obvious: short of including a prescript for the benefit of modern readers the original author(s) could hardly have made it clearer that the message is being conveyed through literary rather than prosaic means.

What we find in Genesis 1 is not exactly poetry of the type we find in the biblical book of Psalms but nor is it recognizable as simple prose. It is a rhythmic, symbolically- charged inventory of divine commands.  None of this should trouble modern Christians, as if truths expressed by literary device were somehow less true than those expressed in simple prose.  In fact the above is the “face-value” or “literal” reading of the passage.

This face-value reading does the following:

  1. Recognizes Genesis for the ancient document that it is.
  2. Finds no reason to impose a materialistic meaning on the text.
  3. Finds no reason to require the finding of scientific information “between the lines”.
  4. Avoids reducing Genesis to merely literary, metaphorical, or theological expressions.
  5. Poses no conflict with scientific thinking to the extent that it recognizes that the text does not offer scientific explanations.

The Expulsion from the Garden by Chagall

Polkinghorne then deals with Genesis 3 and the story of the fall.  He does not think that the chapter is the historical account of a single disastrous ancestral act, but is a story conveying truths about the relationship between God and humanity.  He believe the story of the Fall should be interpreted in the following manner.

Human beings are self-conscious in a way that greatly exceeds any other animal’s experience of consciousness.  Not just a degree of heightened self-awareness, but also the remarkable human power to project our thoughts into the future and back into the past.  Especially, the unique human ability to be aware of our eventual death.  No one knows when, in the chain of hominid evolution, this first emerged, nevertheless, it is certain that it happened.  Presumably not a single discreet event, but a gradual process.  Polkinghorne believes that this process would have been accompanied by a dawning consciousness of the presence of God (the formation of the imago dei).  In the course of this process of the correlated emergence of these distinctive hominid powers of perception, there was a turning of our ancestors away from the pole of God and into the pole of the human self.  Polkinghorne says:

This declaration of complete human autonomy, the assertion that we can simply “do it my way”, is the root meaning of sin.  The refusal to acknowledge that we are creatures in need of the grace of our Creator is the source of subsequent human sins, those deeds of selfishness and deceit that mar our lives as the result of believing the false claim to be completely independent of the assistance of divine grace.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

This turning from God did not bring biological death into the world, for that had been there for many millions of years.  What it did bring was what Polkinghorne calls “mortality”; human sadness and bitterness at the inevitability of death and decay.  He says because our ancestors had become conscious of this impending death and because they had alienated themselves from God whose steadfast faithfulness is the only true ground for hope of a destiny beyond death; this realization brought deep sorrow at the transience of human life.

Polkinghorne’s approach to the Fall illustrates the continuing power of Scripture, persisting under changes of interpretation induced by changes in knowledge and experience.  The ancient myth of Adam and Eve in the garden was used by Paul to illuminate the Christian experience of the saving power of Christ, and it can be reinterpreted by us for the same purpose in the light of modern scientific knowledge, in a way he believes preserves the essential core of its meaning.  Polkinghorne concludes:

The discussion of this chapter will serve, I hope, to illustrate how ancient religious wisdom and modern scientific knowledge can blend in a way that does justice to the valid insights of both.  This is possible because Scripture is not a dead deposit of unchanging meaning, the repository of assertions that have to be accepted at face value without question, but a living spring from which new truths and insight can be expected to continue to flow.

 

Comments

  1. john barry says:

    Mike the G. Man, Thanks again for putting this together and sharing it . It just codifies my thoughts and gives me a context I can understand and relate to. The Bible was written to transmit its message for the ages, though all the periods and confluences of time and learning. That bronze age man and someone as smart and wise as Pokinghorne can accept it as the eternal truth is compelling to me. The message of the Bible does not change or is hidden or evolves it is man that evolves as God intended. I just really appreciate the time and thought you have put into the articles I have read here.
    As a geologist perhaps you could explain to some of my friends that it is not possible that I could be as dumb as a rock, that is just not science. Also many think I have hit rock bottom but again where would that be? So time , place , context and audience mean everything as we read, reflect , learn and grow. I know people do not really think I have rocks in my head , they are trying to convey a message to me, but I am not sure what it is, I am a literal person.
    Seriously, thanks again

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      You’re a funny guy, John. Let’s you, me, and HUG hang out sometime 🙂

    • The message of the Bible does not change or is hidden or evolves it is man that evolves as God intended.

      Complicated statement. The message of each book of the Bible is certainly there, but I guess it’s also true to say that the message of the Bible (the compiled Christian canon) has not changed either since it was assembled by churches.

  2. senecagriggs says:

    Two Options:

    A) Man has evolved

    B) There is “nothing new under the sun.” – Solomon

    • flatrocker says:

      …and these two options can co-exist and that’s ok.

      His mercy is renewed every morning

    • …I’m not getting how these two are opposing options.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        In the mind of narrow fundamentalism, it is. You must remember (speaking as one who grew up in this world) that fundamentalism stymies intellect. It cuts of logic and evidence. It knows only itself, and everything else is wrong. Fundamentalism breeds the Donning-Kruger Effect, big-time.

        • flatrocker says:

          Actually, most anything can breed the Dunning-Kruger effect. We’re all more stupid than we think we are.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            True. But fundyism invariably accelerates it.

          • john barry says:

            Flatrocker, I can safely say I cannot be more stupid than other people think I am, that would be impossible. I take the broad view of fundamentalism that Jesus Loves Me , This I know, For the Bible Tells Me So. This was taught to me my Mrs. Larson , first grade Sunday School teacher when I matriculated in her class. It might have been the apex of my intellectual life although years later I did receive two years of business math maintaining a high C average.
            I tell people I am smarter than I look and act and their only comment is , I hope so, they are on my side.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        +1

        There are days I suspect Theology is built on a foundation of false dicotomies and undistributed mddles.

    • C) Proverbs aren’t literal factual truth but are proverbs.

      O vey.

      • LOL. I have noticed how many of the proverbs fall short of 100% applicable all the time, every circumstance, everywhere.

    • Two options:

      1) Jesus was man.

      2) Jesus was God.

      Those dichotomies sure are mind-boggling, right?

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      New things under the sun according to the Bible itself since the creation of the sun and Solomon:

      Every living creature, mankind, the Tree of Life, Eden, death, rain, sin, nephillim, the Law, clothes, farming, metalworking, any number of new languages (Babel), the ark, the Temple, Solomon’s own throne (“there was not the like made in any kingdom”), Moses speaking directly to God, God choosing himself a people …

  3. john barry says:

    Klasie K. , I belong more in the Jason-Freddy Kruger field of study camp. . This is a very complex study and that’s why many sequels were needed to further explain the Jason-Kruger effect, you cannot fall asleep studying the Kruger effect as it is so revealing. The Jason effect is cutting edge and will never die as intellectual property Some people are afraid to study the Jason-Kruger effect but not me as my intellect was challenged and sharpened by two years of high school business math. I am certain that I am usually always wrong .
    .
    Actually most politicians and prosperity preachers lead me to believe they were part of the Donning – Kruger study as I am not certain what they believe and I am sure they are not either.

    • And if you’re dealing with the Voorhees-Krueger effect, there is only ONE solution…

      Ash

      Groovy. 😉

      • ASH! Yes!

        • You got realllll ugly.

          I finally saw Army of Darkness for the first time this past Halloween. SO GOOD. But I still think Evil Dead 2 is the best.

          • Army of Darkness FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS PAST HALLOWEEN?!?!?! Seriously??? Great movie. Evil Dead 2 is up there, but I still like AoD best.

            • It’s mostly due to the fact it’s mostly out of print and there are no boxed sets. Had to Amazon Prime rent it.

  4. Ultimately isn’t exploring the science in the Bible sort of just observing the scientific knowledge of your average Palestinian citizen? Science either learned through some small level of schooling, common shared knowledge, or observation of the world around them. None of the Biblical authors were scientists, couple were scholars who maybe had access to other texts, but none would be our modern equivalent of any type of scientific profession.

    So while I’m sure learning more about what ANE people knew about the physical world and how they incorporated that into their writings and sacred scriptures is fun and valuable, there’s no secret knowledge or actual mechanical understanding of the physical world to be found in the Bible. (And it would be quite an arrogant faith statement to say God put anything there.)

    • “there’s no secret knowledge or actual mechanical understanding of the physical world to be found in the Bible. (And it would be quite an arrogant faith statement to say God put anything there.)”

      If you believe God only ever speaks Truth, and only ever speaks in language that requires no context or interpretation, and that literal propositional knowledge is the ultimate/only expression of Truth… then to your view, it isn’t arrogance, but faithfulness.

    • John Walton, an evangelical OT scholar, who teaches at Wheaton (THE flagship evangelical school) writes this. The last line pretty much sums up the whole issue (emphasis mine).

      ‘Our first proposition is that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology. That is, it does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions. The Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their “scientific” understanding of the cosmos. They did not know the stars were suns; they did not know the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not even know the sun was much farther away than the moon, or even farther than the birds flying in the air. They believed that the sky was material (not vaporous), solid enough to support the residence of deity as well as to hold back waters. In these ways and many others, they thought about the cosmos in much the same way that anyone in the ancient world thought, and not at all like anyone thinks today! AND GOD DID NOT THINK IT IMPORTANT TO REVISE THEIR THINKING.’ (first paragraph of chapter 1 in ‘The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate’)

      As I have said to many, the real problem with a literal interpretation of the creation accounts is that you have to also take literally the creation it describes (and as described in other places in the Bible). The earth is flat, and at the center of the universe. The sun, moon, and stars are within the ‘firmament’ (the solid sky Walton mentions) and the rain is stored outside the firmament (beyond the stars). It rains when God opens the windows in the firmament, and it snows and hails when he brings the snow and hail out of his storehouses. Now some may argue some of this language is poetic, but it was NOT to the ancient Israelites – they actually believed the cosmos was structured this way. Again, the last line in the quote by Walton sums it up pretty well.

  5. –> “5. Poses no conflict with scientific thinking to the extent that it recognizes that the text does not offer scientific explanations.”

    I was just reading somewhere – I don’t think it was iMonk, but maybe the iMonk FB page – about the idea that if one believes God creates and controls the weather (which to some is a Biblical principal), then He does so through natural weather formations and weather patterns. In other words, He doesn’t just “create rain” where there are no rainclouds or without creating weather patterns that would bring rain. (If someone has seen rain without a cloud in the sky, I’d like to hear about it.) I also think He allows His hands to be somewhat tied by the natural, physical order of things, otherwise I think we’d see rain bring brought more frequently by God to drought-striken nations and areas.

    • “You’re just denying the supernatural.”

    • And think about the butterfly effect, and how the tiniest of details can eventually lead to massive, large-scale weather behavior (i.e. chaos theory and sensitivity to initial conditions)

  6. senecagriggs says:

    Klaise and Adam [ or others who would agree with their theological stance];
    If I read your comments correctly, you both have rejected your former beliefs in the basic tenets of Christianity.

    My question is this [ and there is no “gotcha” here. ]

    Do you believe there is a transcendent being or not?

    • “Do you believe there is a transcendent being or not?”

      Yes. Now, which beliefs that you consider “basic tenets” do you think we’ve denied?

      • Yes, you’ll have to be more specific, and hopefully more specific (and explanatory) than your 2 options above.

      • senecagriggs says:

        Eeyore, I don’t know what you believe – other than you disagree with whatever I post. Do you consider yourself a Christian? Believe in a transcend God?

        • I already replied yes to that question. There are obviously things I have said elsewhere that cause you to doubt what I say. So, let’s get it into the open… What exactly to you think is essential that you think we deny?

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      No

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  9. Edwardtbabinski says:

    Augustine was not a modern interpreter of the Bible. His views as a whole were nearer that of today’s young earth creationists than say, BIOLOGOS.

    For instance, concerning the days of creation, Augustine understood Gen. 1:11,12 to mean that fruit trees literally came into existence before the creation of animals. See Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 2 (New York: Newman, 1982), 37.

    Augustine also taught that a literal firmament of some sort must exist.

    Augustine mentions that “…[in Genesis 1] the firmament was made between the waters above and beneath, and was called ‘Heaven,’ in which firmament the stars were made on the fourth day.” [City of God chapter 11.5-9] In that same chapter Augustine cites Psalm 148:3-4 that states the “sun, moon, stars and heaven” praise the Lord along with “the waters above the heavens,” which assumes waters exist above the stars. Augustine adds, “Whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man?s mind.”

    Augustine?s last phrase above was echoed by Martin Luther as late as the fifteenth century:

    “Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which… are the waters… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding”
    —Martin Luther, Luther?s Works, vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan (St. Louis, MI: Concordia, 1958), pp. 30, 42, 43].

    “Many [of the Church Fathers] repeat the statement of Augustine, that whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man?s mind.”
    —Frank Egleston Robbins, The Hexaemeral Literature: a Study of the Greek and Latin Commentaries on Genesis

    Augustine offers a lengthy allegorical interpretation of the firmament in his Confessions (book 13)—seeing it as a symbol of Scripture and its place between the earthly and the heavenly—but the presence of an allegorical interpretation does not mean that he also rejects the literal existence of a firmament.

    When some philosophers of Augustine?s day argued that the waters would be too heavy to stay in the sky, Augustine replied, “If God ever wished oil to remain under water, it would do so.” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.2).

    The “term ‘firmament’ does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven,” says Augustine, “we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is a solid and that it constitutes an impassible boundary between the waters above and the waters below” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.10.23). And while he appears later in life to question his confidence in the exact nature of the firmament (Retractions 2.6.2), he continues to hold to its literal existence.
    —Brandon Withrow, Augustine, Genesis, and “Removing the Mystical Veil”: Part 2

    Augustine also believed in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, and lengthy lifetimes of the patriarchs

    “They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed [since the creation of Adam and Eve].
    —City of God, Book XII, Chapter 10, On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World?s Past

    “…those antediluvians lived more than 900 years.”
    —City of God, Book XV, Chapter 14

    Augustine also believed in a literal global flood and story of Noah, and hell existing literally beneath his feet.

    “It seems to me that in the twelfth book I ought to have taught that hell is under the earth rather than to give a reason why it is under the earth, since it is believed to or said to be earth, as if it were not so.”
    —Retractations, written near the end of Augustine?s life

  10. Edwardtbabinski says:

    Ambrose also taught that the “light of day” was created before and separate from the “light of the sun,” based on Genesis 1. You can’t arrive at a much more literal interpretation of Genesis than that.

    Ambrose noted the way daylight preceded sunlight in Genesis 1, and wrote, “Three days [of creation] have passed. No one, meanwhile, has looked for the sun, yet the brilliance of light has been in evidence everywhere.” Based on that he concluded, “The light of day is one thing and the light of the sun and moon and stars another… The day… has its light… a serener light… The sun adds its brilliance to the light of day. This can be seen at the dawn of day or at its setting. There is daylight before the rising of the sun, but it is far from being brilliant.”

    The above distinction brings to mind Ecclesiastes 12:2, that says, “…the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened…” [emphasis added]. The Hebrew word translated as “[the] light” in this passage is “‘or,” which is the same word that occurs in the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:3–5, and is there called the light of day. “Light” [of day] in the passage in Ecclesiastes is thus placed after the light of the sun and before the light of the moon in order of brightness, exactly where Ambrose would have agreed it belonged. “Light” [Hebrew, ‘or] is also spoken of as existing by itself in Job 38:19, which asks, “Where is the way where light dwelleth? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof?” 

    Ancient Near Easterners, including ancient Israelites, viewed the light of Day as separate from the light emitted by the Sun. Texts from ancient Ugarit, Israel’s West Semitic neighbor, mention gods of Light, as well as gods of Dawn and Dusk that are separate from gods of Sun and Moon. It seems to have been a common assumption/belief back then that daylight was a form of light that did not depend on the sun. The high god of Babylon, Marduk, like Yahweh, created heaven and earth before adding sun, moon, stars. https://edwardtbabinski.us/scrivenings/2012/israel-and-babylons-high-gods-yahweh.html

  11. Edwardtbabinski says:

    AUGUSTINE AND AMBROSE WERE NOT LITERALISTS? Probably far nearer to being literalists than Christians who are pro-evolution would care to admit:

    Concerning the days of creation, Augustine understood Gen. 1:11,12 to mean that fruit trees literally came into existence before the creation of animals. See Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 2 (New York: Newman, 1982), 37.

    Augustine also taught that a literal firmament of some sort must exist.

    Augustine mentions that “…[in Genesis 1] the firmament was made between the waters above and beneath, and was called ‘Heaven,’ in which firmament the stars were made on the fourth day.” [City of God chapter 11.5-9] In that same chapter Augustine cites Psalm 148:3-4 that states the “sun, moon, stars and heaven” praise the Lord along with “the waters above the heavens,” which assumes waters exist above the stars. Augustine adds, “Whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man?s mind.”

    Augustine?s last phrase above was echoed by Martin Luther as late as the fifteenth century:

    “Scripture simply says that the moon, the sun, and the stars were placed in the firmament of the heaven, below and above which… are the waters… We Christians must be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of things. And if some are beyond our comprehension like those before us concerning the waters above the heavens, we must believe them rather than wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding”
    —Martin Luther, Luther?s Works, vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, ed. Janoslaw Pelikan (St. Louis, MI: Concordia, 1958), pp. 30, 42, 43].

    “Many [of the Church Fathers] repeat the statement of Augustine, that whatever the nature of the waters [above the firmament], we must believe in them, for the authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of man?s mind.”
    —Frank Egleston Robbins, The Hexaemeral Literature: a Study of the Greek and Latin Commentaries on Genesis

    Augustine offers a lengthy allegorical interpretation of the firmament in his Confessions (book 13)—seeing it as a symbol of Scripture and its place between the earthly and the heavenly—but the presence of an allegorical interpretation does not mean that he also rejects the literal existence of a firmament.

    When some philosophers of Augustine?s day argued that the waters would be too heavy to stay in the sky, Augustine replied, “If God ever wished oil to remain under water, it would do so.” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.2).

    The “term ‘firmament’ does not compel us to imagine a stationary heaven,” says Augustine, “we may understand this name as given to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is a solid and that it constitutes an impassible boundary between the waters above and the waters below” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 2.10.23). And while he appears later in life to question his confidence in the exact nature of the firmament (Retractions 2.6.2), he continues to hold to its literal existence.
    —Brandon Withrow, Augustine, Genesis, and “Removing the Mystical Veil”: Part 2

    Augustine also believed in a literal Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, and lengthy lifetimes of the patriarchs

    “They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed [since the creation of Adam and Eve].
    —City of God, Book XII, Chapter 10, On the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World?s Past

    “…those antediluvians lived more than 900 years.”
    —City of God, Book XV, Chapter 14

    Augustine also believed in a literal global flood and story of Noah, and hell existing literally beneath his feet.

    “It seems to me that in the twelfth book I ought to have taught that hell is under the earth rather than to give a reason why it is under the earth, since it is believed to or said to be earth, as if it were not so.”
    —Retractations, written near the end of Augustine?s life

    Ambrose also taught that the “light of day” was created before and separate from the “light of the sun,” based on Genesis 1. You can’t arrive at a much more literal interpretation of Genesis than that.

    Ambrose noted the way daylight preceded sunlight in Genesis 1, and wrote, “Three days [of creation] have passed. No one, meanwhile, has looked for the sun, yet the brilliance of light has been in evidence everywhere.” Based on that he concluded, “The light of day is one thing and the light of the sun and moon and stars another… The day… has its light… a serener light… The sun adds its brilliance to the light of day. This can be seen at the dawn of day or at its setting. There is daylight before the rising of the sun, but it is far from being brilliant.”

    The above distinction brings to mind Ecclesiastes 12:2, that says, “…the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened…” [emphasis added]. The Hebrew word translated as “[the] light” in this passage is “‘or,” which is the same word that occurs in the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:3–5, and is there called the light of day. “Light” [of day] in the passage in Ecclesiastes is thus placed after the light of the sun and before the light of the moon in order of brightness, exactly where Ambrose would have agreed it belonged. “Light” [Hebrew, ‘or] is also spoken of as existing by itself in Job 38:19, which asks, “Where is the way where light dwelleth? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof?” 

    Ancient Near Easterners, including ancient Israelites, viewed the light of Day as separate from the light emitted by the Sun. Texts from ancient Ugarit, Israel’s West Semitic neighbor, mention gods of Light, as well as gods of Dawn and Dusk that are separate from gods of Sun and Moon. It seems to have been a common assumption/belief back then that daylight was a form of light that did not depend on the sun. The high god of Babylon, Marduk, like Yahweh, created heaven and earth before adding sun, moon, stars. https://edwardtbabinski.us/scrivenings/2012/israel-and-babylons-high-gods-yahweh.html

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