When discussing inscripuration and “inspiration” we rarely discuss human agency. Could it be the case that what we call inspiration can better be explained through the analogy of incarnation? Just as Jesus was fully man and God, so scripture, too is incarnate (by analogy)? Thus when God speaks to us (or to them) he enveloped himself in their world-views and language albeit with necessary corrections. This analogy also helps us include source material which is often left out in discussions about revelation, inspiration, and inscripturarion (see Num 21:14; Josh 10:13; Ezra 4:11 Luke 1:1-4).
I think we need to take seriously what scriptural actually says about itself, as opposed to theories which do not incorporate all the data. I am very aware that 2 Peter 1:20-21 says that no scripture is of any private interpretation; but the primary function of this state is to contrast, the true word of prophecy over against cleverly devised myths that have no bearing in truth or false prophets. It really says nothing at all about the use of sources, multiple authors, or redactors which seems apparent in scripture.
The inevitable question that follows is: “So, are you saying that the Bible is erroneous in the realm of science?” If the Bible’s purpose was to give an accurate, reliable, scientific treatise (i.e. was a science book), and came short of that task, then yes, it is erroneous. I am saying that assuming that God felt it necessary to teach science to (pre-scientific) people may be an unfaithful reading of the text. I don’t think the Bible intends to give a modern description of the world and so is not wrong, for it cannot be wrong in doing something it never set out to do in the first place.
The reason I pose these questions is to come to some kind of consensus on how scripture should be read and understood and taught today. For example, the Hebrew word translated firmament (raqia–it means something like to beat out, like beating out metal) was understood by the ancients (including Israelites) as a solid dome in the sky. ANE (Ancient Near Eastern) literature also describes water above the solid expanse in the sky. The sky was held up by the mountains and had shutters that opened and closed so as to allow this rain to come down and water the earth, this was their “weather” so to speak. Sometimes water came from under the earth so there was believed to be a sub-Mediterranean world and something to keep that steady as well.
Creation accounts in other literature are remarkably similar to the Genesis account. For example the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation account), found in Ashurbanipal’s library and was more than likely written in the second millenium BCE, parallels Genesis in the follow areas.
1. The sequence of the days of creation are similar–firmament, dry land, luminaries, and humanity followed by rest.
2. Darkness precedes creation activity
3. The division of waters (above and below the sky dome)
4. Light exists before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars
However, Enuma Elish begins creation with a great cosmic battle between the god Marduk and his great-great-grandmother, the goddess Tiamat. After a drama unfolds Marduk kills tiamat and from her remains creates the heavens. This story elevated Marduk as the greatest of the gods. Where as in scripture no cosmic struggle ensues between gods;only God is present, and a non-functioning orderless world that comes into being and functions to the power of God’s word. The created world is not composed of gods, but is created by the one true and living God.
Something that would have been apparent to the ancients but is not so apparent to us is the temple imagery found in Genesis 1. Proverbs says, “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. (24:3-4)” That is how creation is depicted in a good bit of scripture as God’s house or temple. The earth has foundations ( 1 Sam 2:8) like a house does (Pro 24:3-4) and it is through wisdom that it is created. The proverbs writer will extract this concept of creative wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-31). God builds his cosmic temple and them through wisdom fills its rooms with beautiful treasures (creation).
His wisdom and love are shown in passing on his own creative power “be fruitful and multiply”–create as I do. Then he creates man “in his own image.” Again, the gods would put their images in temples (idol); God creates men in his image and tells them to “have dominion over…[creation] (Genesis 1:26-28). Being created in God’s image is to have wise rule over creation, to rule as a shepherd king did, not as a despot but as a servant. We are effectively angled mirrors, reflecting God into his creation and reflecting God back to God. I suggest this is the starting point to understanding the purpose of humans, I suggest God’s plan is for us to rule over creation as he does, and that he will redeem it, not snatch us from it and throw it in the trash can, but I digress.
This I think properly sets Genesis 1 in its historical context, not a scientific treatise on how the world began, but an ancient creation story that describes the universe as God’s temple and humans as his offspring who will rule over it as shepherd kings. No wonder Jesus said, “for the son of man came not to be ministered to be but to a minister and give his life a ransom for many,” he came in the express image of God and functioned as a true shepherd king.
If we insist that Genesis 1 must be flattened out and read through western lenses, we will misread Genesis 1. Also, we run into the following predicament, we must also affirm that the Enuma Elish and other creation accounts also display thousands of years of scientific foreknowledge (if Genesis is read scientifically literal). Thus either God spoke through other cultures besides Israel or there are other gods besides YHWH who also had scientific foreknowledge, neither option is tenable. Genesis 1 is an ancient depiction of cosmology and creation that spoke to the people of that time; it is neither a lie or a falsehood, but a powerful story invested with true theological significance that God is good and created a good creation.