Smoke & Mirrors: Scholarship and Genesis 1


There is nothing more beautiful than a reflection off the waters or a mist rising from a lake. There is still no way to catch that vapour. To coral it, and hold it off from finding its way away from the earth.

This vapour is used as a metaphor by Solomon as he talks about the different pursuits of life. Its application to academics is something I have always found particularly interesting. I was taking the philosophy of math and broader western philosophy in my third year of college, and I was walking out of class everyday with a headache on the issues I was trying to wrap my mind around. Solomon’s Book of Ecclesiastes had astounded me since I was 16 and wrestling with the vanity of life. It astounded me so much that  I wrote an entire term paper on it for theology in 3rd year of college (probably to cope with the philosophy of math/science and western philosophy). This line in particular aligns with the topic at hand:

“I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

Now this is not an excuse for being unacademic. Hence, I realized that I needed to finish my fourth year of college and enter into a four year M.Div. program. Knowledge increases sorrow, yes, but the key is to fear God and keep His commandments. But I digress.

There are many Christian scholars who have done a lot for the advance of the gospel. But academic work gone unchecked becomes vapour. This little clip by Peter Enns and N.T. Wright have impressed the danger of scholarship upon me: clip. N.T. Wright defines literal in this way: “The word literal refers to the way in which things refer to things”. He then applies this to Genesis. In applying this to Genesis, he says that it is not so important that God made the world in 6 days as the fact that the literal meaning of Genesis is that it is a Temple Story!

Try to stick your head into the argument and it actually makes a lot of sense. Simply read the text of Genesis 1, and then watch the clip, and you’ll be left scratching your head. Wait, doesn’t ‘day’ mean ‘day’, just like the ‘incarnation’ means ‘incarnation’? I believe that Wright leaves words devoid of meaning. N.T. Wright claims that he doesn’t leave them devoid of meaning by bringing Greek philosophy and ancient cosmologies to bear on Genesis 1. But that is no longer reading from the text, but into the text. If you dig deeper into those areas of philosophy and ancient cosmologies, you will be left scratching your head, and either believing it, or realizing that it is all absolutely speculative theology.

Fear God and keep his commandments. To obey this command means that ‘fear’ needs to mean something, as does ‘God’, ‘keep’, and ‘commandments’. I could dissect these words, to bring out deeper levels of meaning. I can and should. What did it mean in its context? What did it mean for the Jewish people? But I can’t define ‘fear’ as ‘do whatever you want’. But now I must desist. The Bible is clear. “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” Ecc. 5:7

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