It’s Not the Word That Speaks | Genesis, Literally

Blake Creation

In the previous post I blogged about a fascinating book review in The Believer in which the reviewer was given just the text – no author, no past publications list, no endorsements and no well-designed cover. The text had to literally speak for itself, and, as someone who is about to be published again, I know I have conflicted opinions about this.

I think this has something to say to us about ‘bible-believing’ belief too. On Monday I had lunch with a colleague and fell to talking about a programme on the previous night which had looked at creation. My colleague (a warm atheist) was telling me about two friends who both believed that the Genesis creation narrative was literally true.

My thought was this: it was not that they had read Genesis and decided on the basis of the evidence that it was literally true, rather they simply couldn’t countenance the prospect of it not being literally true, as the problems of interpretation that this would precipitate would be too big. ‘It’s a matter of faith,’ one would repeatedly say. ‘I know it seems crazy, but I just have to believe it.’

In other words, for many ‘bible-believing’ Christians the irony is this: their belief that the bible is all literally true means that it has to be gagged. Why? Because if it were actually allowed to speak, it would cause too many problems.

If we were to simply read the text, without the ‘binding’ of the stern voices that tell us we can’t doubt, without the hard covers that brow-beat us with concerns that we are back-sliders if we don’t believe it all, we might find – as the reviewer did with their text – that when the word is allowed to speak, we can be renewed.


2 responses to “It’s Not the Word That Speaks | Genesis, Literally”

  1. Karsten R

    hmmm. strange chain of thought. In your own words you had a thought about the thinking of two guys and then extend the conclusion to be the same for many “bible-believing” christians.
    On which basis do you think such assumption can be made reasonable?
    Do you know the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant? Where they all grasp different parts of the elephant and debate about the shape of the elephant without coming to a conclusion? The same here: The elephant is the text and all the readers who read it are the blind men. But to judge about the imperfections of particular readers is to say you see the WHOLE elephant and put yourself on a superior position (“god mode”).
    It’s nothing different to those who judge those readers who have a non-literal understanding of this text as apostates or heretics.

  2. im convinced that the vast majority of professing christians have not read the bible. it may be that they have read parts or even some books. proverbs in a month comes to mind. theyre sure to hear some snippets at church on sunday. but the more conversations i have the more i am confounded at the lack of biblical familiarity among gods chosen.