Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Oy Vay! Genesis One and Two Disagree!

In the Genesis One account, and in the fossil record with which that account is consistent, animals are created before man. However, moving on to the next chapter, in Genesis 2:19 we read:
So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Gen. 2:19, ESV)
Unsophisticated bible critics label this an obvious error.

Now there are a fair number of difficult questions regarding scripture, but this isn't one of them. Talented bible critics never bring up Genesis One v. Genesis Two as a problem, since they recognize that, in fact, it isn't.

The irreconcilable discrepancy, as it were, is clear. In the English, Gen. 2:19 reverses the order of creation given in Genesis One. In Genesis Two, it appears that man was created before the animals.

Like, o my gosh that's embarrassing! How could we not have noticed?

We first note, not as an explanation but just as a datum, that Genesis One is a chronological creation account, while Genesis Two is not. Genesis Two zooms-in on the creation of man, elaborating on his duties and responsibilities.

We also suggest that this verse presents something of a problem for young earth creationists, because Adam's naming of the animals would have to have been completed in a matter of hours (or minutes), since other things also happened on day six. Adam's ability to name (thoughtfully, it would appear) all the animals has been explained in a number of problematic (meaning without biblical support) ways, such as pre-fall supernatural speed, or and/or a pre-fall super-intellect. Of course, for old earth creationists this is not an issue.

Back to the point at hand, where we will find that there is a simple explanation.

And we expect a simple explanation, because the ancient Hebrews were not idiots. Hebrew scholars, along with Christian theologians, would surely have noticed the "obvious, slam-dunk" refutation of biblical inerrancy that every two-bit bible critic seems to imagine he discovered on his own. Over thousands of years, you'd have to expect that the Jews would have corrected such a blatant inconsistency.

The crux of the correct explanation is that the form of past tense for a verb used in ancient Hebrew was based on context. (In other words, the varieties of distinctive tenses we use in English, which are independent of context, were not used.)

Hebrew scholar Victor Hamilton writes
it is possible to translate formed as 'had formed.' (Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, p. 176, 1990).
Indeed, some scholarly English translations do render using the pluperfect tense. While the plain past tense is used in the KJV and in the ESV that I quoted above, the NIV reads:
Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Gen. 2:19, NIV)
Clearly this translation implies no temporal ordering.

In their encyclopedic commentary on the Old Testament, scholars Keil and Delitzsch write:
our modern style for expressing the same thought would be simply this: ‘God brought to Adam the beasts which He had formed (C. F. Keil, and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1996).
H. C. Leupold, another Hebrew scholar, wrote regarding Gen. 2:19
Without any emphasis on the sequence of acts the account here records the making of the various creatures and the bringing of them to man. That in reality they had been made prior to the creation of man is so entirely apparent from chapter one as not to require explanation. But the reminder that God had "molded" them makes obvious His power to bring them to man and so is quite appropriately mentioned here. It would not, in our estimation, be wrong to translate yatsar as a pluperfect in this instance: "He had molded." The insistence of the critics upon a plain past [tense] is partly the result of the attempt to make chapters one and two clash at as many points as possible. (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 1942).
In summary, scholars over the last few millennia didn't "miss" the problem. They simply recognized that the defensible option of choosing the pluperfect tense rendered any such discussion moot.

Of course, you don't have to use the pluperfect. You could choose the vanilla past tense, in which case the problem reappears. But biblical defense does not demand that the only possible interpretation supports the desired result—it demands only that some reasonable and defensible interpretation does so. In this case, the requirement is met easily.

No comments:

Post a Comment