How To Read Genesis 1-3

The Nature of God 

Who God Is 

How To Read Genesis 1-3

Part 5  (Final Part)

Use of Analogies in Genesis 1–3 

Finally, it is wise to take into account the ordinary way that God uses in speaking to his people in Genesis 1–3. He does not need to impress anyone with some highly technical display of scientific knowledge. After all, he is God. All the technical knowledge, like all human knowledge whatsoever, ultimately comes from him. What he does in Genesis is to speak to ordinary people about what they most need to know. They need to know that he is the almighty God. They need to know that he created everything that they can see, and even what they cannot see. He created things at least partly for the benefit and blessing of human beings. The creation displays his power and his glory (Psalm 19:1–6). 

So in Genesis 1–2, God largely describes what he did by using analogies with providential works that he continues to do today. For instance, he created the whole system by which plants reproduce according to their kinds (Genesis 1:11–12). He did it in an initial, once-for-all act of creation. But the pattern of making new plants continues in his providential work today. These analogies between today and the events of creation help ordinary people to understand what God did. 

If we take into account God’s address to ordinary people, it helps to steer us away from either overreading or underreading Genesis 1–3. We overread it if we try to find technical detail about exactly how God did what he did. What he did in Genesis 1 is analogous to what he does day by day in providential control now. But because this description involves analogy rather than identity, we cannot infer the details beyond what the analogies give us. 

We also should beware of the danger of underreading Genesis 1–3. This underreading takes place if we merely focus on the main point — God is God, and he made everything. That is true enough. But whatever God says in Genesis 1–3, including each detail, offers something to learn. Nothing is to be merely discarded or set aside merely because it is not the main point. 

Events in Space and Time 

The basic guidelines for interpreting Genesis 1–3 derive from Scripture itself. If we follow the guide of Scripture, we will read Genesis 1–3 with understanding. We will not have all our questions answered, because Genesis 1–3 does not say everything that could be said about the details of how God did things. Much remains mysterious. But we do gain from Genesis 1–3 a true understanding of reality. God created the world and mankind. Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden. Those were real events in space and time.   (end)

Taken from an article from the works of Vern Poythressauthor 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. 

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