Genesis 1: What in the World did that First Hebrew Audience Hear?

Speaker: Categories: Jan 08, 2011


[1hr, 4min, 49sec / 58min, 25sec]

About the Topic:

What did your parents teach you about the beginning ... and what did you learn in Sabbath (or Sunday) School? What were you taught about creation in grade school, in academy (high school), in college, in graduate or professional school whether you attended SDA or nonSDA schools? Did you develop the feeling that the Bible had been written for you or were you informed that the early Hebrews finally wrote down the ancient text of Genesis only after it had been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth for perhaps thousands of years? Have you kept up with the evidence that has accumulated on this topic during your lifetime and, if so, have you given it serious thought and evaluation? How do you picture the very beginning of matter and of life on this planet?

What did the writer of Genesis 1 really mean by the"Hebrew"words chosen to describe the beginning of all things? What was his/her view of the universe, the solar system, planet earth and everything in it? How did he/she envision all of this coming into existence? and what caused rain? ... pregnancy? ... the sunrise? etc., etc. Was this account of creation meant to be the literal, definitive, all-inclusive, final answer to how the world and its contents came to be? Does it really say that it all took place in seven consecutive 24-hour days? What knowledge of the scientific method and the use and evaluation of scientific evidence might the writer(s) have had? And, equally important, what did the first audience of this story really hear as it was read to them from the ancient manuscript (there were no"Bibles"available and even if they got their hands on the manuscript, most couldn't read)? What was their understanding of the world? ... the causes of the phenomena around them? Did they have even a primitive sense of the scientific method and the evaluation of evidence?

The presenters of this month's topic raise the question"is it possible that we have not looked at the text (or been taught) correctly?"Ellen White said"There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation."(RH, December 20,1892)

Does Seventh-day Adventism have the spiritual courage to consider the possibility that we have more to learn about the actual content and message of Genesis 1? Until 1960, Adventist academics thought the entire universe was 10,000 or fewer years old. It is now the consensus that Gen. 1:1 is about the creation of the universe billions of years ago, and the rest of the account is about the origin of life on earth. So, between verses 1& 2 there is a 13.7 billion gap - quite a different view than was held 50 years ago!

This topic took on new significance following the most recent General Conference where it was voted to rewrite Fundamental Belief #6 and make it more specific about a literal six-day creation. How can we as a denomination wholeheartedly embrace the scientific method in the realm of medicine (Loma Linda University being a stellar example with its scientifically-based research and therapies) while rejecting the scientific evidence in the realm of geology and biology? Is this a matter to be left up to a vote of the church when the vast majority of members are not scientifically trained? Might not church unity be strengthened in the long run by allowing for more diversity in the reading and understanding of this profound ancient tale? Clearly, the new world leader of the church believes that the church will be better served by his traditional, narrower interpretation - only time will tell!

To help us understand what Genesis 1 meant to those that first heard it ..."Let us in imagination go back to that scene, and ... enter into the thoughts and feelings that filled their hearts. Understanding what the words ... meant to those who heard them, we may discern in them a new vividness and beauty, and may also gather for ourselves their deeper lessons."(TMB1). In addition to reviewing the historical, literary and theological context of the Genesis 1 account of the beginning, Drs. Bull and Guy will illuminate the meaning of such words and phrases as"firmament,""heavens,""earth,""dry land,""natural law,""chance,""translation,""retro-translation,"as well as important Hebrew words such as"yom,""areb,""boger,"etc.

About the Presenters:

Dr. Brian S. Bull was born in London, England and graduated from Walla Walla College and LLUSM. In 1973 he was appointed Professor and Chair, Department of Pathology at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and also concurrently served as Dean of the School 1994-2002. He is an internationally-known hematopathologist having authored 200+ peer-reviewed research papers, book chapters, etc.; served nine years as the editor of the journal Blood Cells and is a member of all of the right medical professional societies. He also has a longstanding interest in the relationship of faith and science and has lectured and published on the topic.

Dr. Fritz Guy was born in Minnesota, has academic degrees from La Sierra College, the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has subsequently served as Professor and Dean at most of these institutions and is currently Research Professor of Philosophical Theology at the La Sierra University School of Religion after having served as the university's first president. He, too, has published numerous scholarly and popular articles and book chapters as well as authored and co-edited several books on religion, theology and philosophy; has served as on the editorial board of the AF journal SPECTRUM since its inception over 40 years ago, is a member of all of the right religion professional societies and is often fondly considered the Dean of SDA Theologians.

Significantly, Drs. Bull and Guy are the co-editors (along. with Dr. Ervin Taylor) ofUnderstanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives(Adventist Today, 2006).

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