One problem in modern times is that many people think they know what the Bible teaches, but actually are following a popular culture which misreads it. For example, at Christmas we may send cards with “three kings” around the manger, and winged angels in the sky. In the Bible, however, angels never appear with wings, and the magi who came to see Jesus were an unknown number of wise people (not necessarily all men), not kings, who came to see Jesus after he had relocated to the house (Matthew 2:1) and as a young child (paidos) not a baby (brefos).With this as a backdrop, he turns the bulk of the paper to the creation narratives, which have vexed biblical historians for centuries. Marston's key point is that it is perfectly reasonable to read many passages as symbolic because that is the way that Jesus used the language. The verse that obviously comes to mind is John 2:18 where Jesus speaks of raising up the temple in three days. As Marston notes, Jesus was speaking of himself and not the actual physical temple because, in his mind, they were one and the same. That was plainly not what he "literally" said, and it confused the disciples and the pharisees mightily.
Other examples of Jesus using symbolic language throughout the gospels abound. Clearly, he did not mean for his speech to be taken literally but, at the same time, he appears to be taking delight in these passages at the fact that his followers and the pharisees didn't "get it." We read these passages and it is easy to think "silly disciples, how dense could they be." Would we have been any better at interpreting them? We laugh when we hear the joke about the zen master asking the hot dog vendor for "one with everything," because we know the context. Replace "zen master" with Ford Prefect and the joke is gone. Everything is context. The disciples and the Pharisees didn't have the proper context to understand what Jesus was saying. Do we? When we read the creation passages, do we "get it?" When Christians adopt the young earth model of creation, are they reading it without context, without understanding?
Marston, in dealing with the persistent, out-of-context misreading of the creation narratives, somewhat humorously uses the work of the late Henry Morris, the grand dean of young earth creationism to illustrate how we interpret scripture almost without consciously knowing it. About the use of "days," Marston writes:
Morris allows the word ‘day’ in Gen 2:4 to mean ‘the whole period of creation’ i.e. six days, even though elsewhere he says that the word ‘never’ means a ‘definite period of time with a specific beginning and ending’.This, of course, presents a problem because the YEC model clearly calls for six literal days. It is not enough that you can say "well, there was light out there and God created in the light." It reads "days." These problems are so obvious as to be almost facile. It is bad enough when you can pick the model apart because of the scientific inaccuracies. When you can point to theological inaccuracies as well, the model becomes even less credible. Marston heaps on example after example in which the text plainly cannot be taken literally without resulting in a lot of head-scratching.
The head scratching continues when we consider just how recent this warped misreading of the primeval history actually is. As Marston recounts:
Popular culture can hardly be expected to rightly understand Scripture. But how are we to explain the obsession with physical literalism that has infected a large sector of the church in modern times? The actual origins of this literalistic or young-earth creationist movement are well documented. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and the early years of Fundamentalism in the twentieth, it was virtually impossible to find any scientist or Bible teacher who thought the world was a few thousand years old and was made in seven literal days. The idea arose in the early twentieth century through the work of the Seventh Day Adventist George McCready Price. Price was inspired (as he says) by the words of the Adventist prophetess Ellen White, he insisted that the seven day cycle went back to creation and he formulated an elaborate alternative geology (although he had no scientific training) suggesting that all the strata were laid down in one flood. Ellen White, of course, had strongly attacked the early Fundamentalists for not keeping the Sabbath on Saturday, and none of the early Fundamentalists adopted Price’s system.I would venture that most people that espouse the YEC model don't know exactly how it came about and the "Joseph Smith"-like characteristics that it entails. It is fair to say that Henry Morris and John Whitcomb launched the modern creationism movement by adapting the models of Price and marketing them to the evangelical Christian movement by linking them to proper scripture interpretation and pitting them against an increasingly secular culture. That the biological theory of evolution had been seen as part of that secular culture since the 1920s was just an added bonus and it was made the prime target.
Like Daniel Harlow's paper, this one is a real eye-opener and should be required reading for every Christian.
Now playing: Anthony Phillips - June