The Nature of God
Who God Is
How To Read Genesis 1-3
The Divine Authorship of the Bible
A second issue concerns the nature of the Bible. It is the word of God. It is what God says.
One principal reason for the diversity of readings of Genesis 1–3 is an underlying diversity of opinion about what kind of text the Bible is. Much of the academic study of Genesis takes place with the assumption that God is not the author of Genesis. In effect, academics deny the divine inspiration of the Bible. This denial follows directly from the prior assumption that God does not speak. According to modern Western thinking, either God does not exist, or he was not involved in the writing of Genesis in a special way. Or, if he was involved somehow, he deferred pretty much to the human author or authors. One way or another, these people discount divine meaning and search only for human meaning.
Clearly, the issue of divine authorship makes a difference in what meanings come out at the end, because a misjudgment about who the author is leads to a misjudgment about what he means. Or, according to some postmodern interpretive approaches, verbal texts and the readers who interact with texts float in a sea of meanings, more or less independent of either God or human authors. But this kind of multiplication of meanings is a mistake, because it discounts the unique authority of God to say what he means and to do so with unique authority.
So it is worthwhile asking whether the Bible teaches divine authorship. It does, in any number of places. Second Peter 1:21 says, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This verse affirms a role for human authors: “men spoke . . .” But it emphasizes that the more ultimate and decisive author is God: “men spoke from God”; and “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Jesus himself affirms the divine authority of the Old Testament in a number of places and a number of ways (Matthew 5:17–20; 19:4–5; 26:54; John 10:35). Interested readers can consult any number of books by evangelical authors, showing how the Bible affirms its own divine authorship and authority (2 Timothy 3:16).
Since God is a God of truth (John 3:33), his word is truth (John 17:17). He can be trusted. The Bible can be trusted, because it is his word. That must be our attitude as we read Genesis 1–3 — and every other passage in the Bible.
So here, in the fact of divine authorship, we have a second central principle in interpreting the Bible. We read and study it with respect and trust, rather than distrust. Just as we must reinterpret modern Western culture in its view of God, so, for the same reason, we must avoid imitating the distrust that the culture has toward the Bible. We avoid also the human temptation to pick and choose the meanings that please our prior preferences, or picking and choosing to believe only those parts of the Bible that line up with our preferences. That picking and choosing makes sense only for people who have already rejected God.
(Part 3, Monday)
Taken from an article from the works of Vern Poythress, author and professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. His most recent books include Knowing and the Trinity: How Perspectives in Human Knowledge Imitate the Trinity (P&R Publishing, 2018) and The Mystery of the Trinity: A Trinitarian Approach to the Attributes of God (P&R Publishing, 2020). He has degrees from Westminster, Cambridge, Harvard, and Caltech.