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Genesis 1 and a figurative translation

Discussion in 'Theistic Evolution' started by ChristianT, Apr 28, 2012.

  1. ChristianT

    ChristianT Newbie Orthodox

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    So according to many (if not every) TE's, Genesis 1 can and should be read as literature/analogy/simply a parabolic way of refuting pagan beliefs of antiquity and showing who God is and some characteristics: creative, transcendent, etc.

    I've also heard or read somewhere that the Hebrew language (Genesis' native) has a tense for literal accounts and a separate tense for figurative accounts.

    So if you are a TE, my first question for you is this: what tense was Genesis originally written in, and could you provide any evidence/links?

    Please note that I would prefer links if you can, but you could just mention a general idea of where you learned your information. Basically, I just don't want people to say "I think this, therefore it should be read like this."

    I would consider myself an origin-agnostic. I would like to figure out which side of the debate I stand on, however. I can see the points of both sides, and (minus the "radical*" YEC) agree with them.

    Thank you for your response(s) and may God bless you! :prayer:
     
  2. gluadys

    gluadys Legend

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    Personally I haven't got much past learning the Hebrew alphabet yet, but I am pretty sure you will find this is incorrect. Let's see what some people more knowledgeable about the language will say.

    Or you could e-mail this question to a professor of biblical Hebrew at any university.
     
  3. Jazer

    Jazer Guest

    I am not a TE, but I do not see any conflict between Evolution and a literal understanding of Genesis. People try to use the Bible to argue against evolution and people try to use evolution to argue against the Bible, but neither one seems to get anywhere with that.
     
  4. shernren

    shernren you are not reading this.

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    I can't see any way a language could work like this. Take, for example, the English expression "heartbreak". It is clearly figurative (one's literal heart does not literally break). But the figure of speech has impact precisely because one's knowledge of literal hearts is invoked. If every figure of speech was fenced off with a "this is a figure of speech" device or tense, would any literature ever be worth reading?

    For that matter, the word "literal" itself is hardly literal. It literally means "according to the letters", which is not how we use the word: after all, the letters h-e-a-r-t can refer to either a literal heart or a figurative heart, with the same letters doing double duty just fine. But if literal itself isn't literal, what could possibly be? :p

    You may be thinking of this: Linguistics, Genesis, and Evolution - Answers in Genesis ... I remember a similar creationist article which involved counting some kind of verb form, but I don't remember where it is right now. Nevertheless, both of them are off the mark. We have never said Genesis 1 is poetry in the sense of the Psalms; but it certainly isn't the normal kind of prose, either. It has refrains and high structuring (two triplets, making and filling, etc - see the framework interpretation) which tell us that something strange is going on.
     
  5. BeforeTheFoundation

    BeforeTheFoundation Regular Member

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    Just to get all of my cards on the table, I am a Theistic Evolutionist.

    This is not true. Hebrew actually does not truly have tense, at least not like English does. That is the main indicator for any given verb is not when it happened but rather how it happened. In other words, when you look at the verb in a sentence like this (from Genesis 1:1a):

    The verb, which is in read and means 'he created' in and of itself does not really indicate when the action took place as it does, how. Note this from C. L. Seow's Hebrew Grammar:
    This is often talked about as incomplete versus complete action. Has what the verb described been completed or is it something that is continuing on?

    In the case of the example above, the verb is in the perfect qal form. This means that it is completed (aspect). But the verb itself does not tell us whether the speaker intends for the verb to have been completed in the past, present, or future (tense). We get this information, not by the verb but by the sentence itself.

    Why is this important to your question? Because this is probably what the person that told you that there was a different tense for different concepts had in mind. Tense is not as straight forward in Hebrew because it is not the main point of a verb, the main point of a verb is how the action took/is taking/will take place.

    I have been studying Hebrew in various academic settings for years and will be getting my second advanced degree in a field relating to it in a few weeks. I don't say this out of pride or in an attempt to tell you that you must agree with me, but to show that I am not just making this up.

    Welcome to the journey!

    You are correct. The person that told the OP this was mistaken.

    I would also add that a narrative, even a completely historical one, will oscillate between figurative and 'non'-figurative language.

    As to the article that shernren cites, I am very leery of AnswersinGenesis, which should come as no surprise. Let's look at their claims.

    This is partly true. As shernren points out, no one claims that Genesis 1 is a poem like a Psalm which is lyrical. But it is a Framework poem. That in and of itself does not mean that it is not also historical, even literal in the way that AiG wants it to be, but it is absolutely a poem of some nature.

    This is misleading. Not all languages have sentences, at least not like we think of them. Notably, Hebrew (the language in question) did not have them in any normal sense. Lacking punctuation and even spaces for that matter, Classical Hebrew was more a bunch of phrases or clauses strung together. Functionally, this does not amount to any difference, I only point it out to demonstrate the weaknesses of the article.

    After establishing that the standard word order in Hebrew is Verb, Subject, Object (a claim which isn't correct mind you, as Hebrew does not have a strict word order, but I will grant that this is a word order that is often used) the article states this:

    One has to wonder, however, why a poem must deviate from the normal word order? If this is the case then the poem Annabel Lee must not really be a poem because it uses standard Subject, Verb, Object word order throughout. Also, Yoda must be a great poet because standard word order he does not use.

    Even if it was a narrative, this does not mean that it is history. You can make up a narrative while being quite minimalistic in your style. The writings of Ernest Hemingway come to mind. But it is a moot point because it turns out that the author of Genesis 1 actually does use literary devices throughout and it is quite stylized. Again, that does not prove that it is not also history as AiG wants it to be.
     
  6. ChristianT

    ChristianT Newbie Orthodox

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    Thank you everyone, especially shernren and B.T.F.

    I remember studying the structure of Hebrew. Learn without proper instruction can I not do. ;) But it seems like Ελληνιστική Κοινή (Hellenistic common language) or "biblical Greek" will be my tertiary language. It will be interesting to read the N.T. from a closer interpretation ;)
     
  7. BeforeTheFoundation

    BeforeTheFoundation Regular Member

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    You are very welcome. If you can get the formal instruction Hebrew is very doable. I actually found it easier than Koine Greek in many respects though most people have the opposite feelings.
     
  8. gluadys

    gluadys Legend

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    Indeed. I may not know Hebrew, but I do know literature and literary forms. The whole business of contrasting narrative with poetry falls apart when one takes note that there are whole genres of narrative poetry--i.e. poems which narrate a story. (My first year high school poetry text in fact was titled "Poems: Chiefly Narrative". Two well-known examples of narrative poetry are ballads and epic poetry. Think of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" or a Scottish ballad like "Lord Randall, my son". So does Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot, though it is not in ballad form. And think of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

    By the same token, although we expect to find figurative writing in poetry, there is also plenty of poetry that is intended to be understood literally; and some of it may even be about actual history (The Charge of the Light Brigade & the aforementioned wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald).

    By contrast, some fictional writing is written with the intention of sounding like documentary or journalistic reportage. So the whole attempt to decide whether a narrative text is referring to history or not on the basis of how literally or poetically it is written is meaningless. A very poetic passage could be about historical events and a very prosaic passage could be entirely imaginative.
     
  9. BeforeTheFoundation

    BeforeTheFoundation Regular Member

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    Absolutely, I almost said something similar to this myself.

    Actually the Iliad and the Aeneid (as well as the Odyssey) are Epic Poems, not narrative Poems.

    Absolutely, at the end of the day I am by no means a Young Earth Creationist, but as I said in my post the fact that it is poetry does not necessarily imply that it is not also history.

    Indeed.

    BTF
     
  10. Truthpaste

    Truthpaste Newbie

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    The bottom line is simply that YOM is used just as we use the word DAY. If I said "in my father's day(1) it took ten days(2) to cross Texas during the day(3)" we would all know that :-

    1. Means Era.
    2. Means ordinary full 24 hr day
    3. Means the daylight portion of a day.

    So how do we easily know that example 1 is a 24 hour day? Because day is given with a number, and in fact of the other 240+ times "yom" is used away from Genesis 1 where "yom" is used with either a number, morning or evening then it ALWAYS means a 24 hour day! Here in Genesis 1 the Holy Spirit couldn't have provided more pointers - a number, morning and evening! - so only taking your world view TO the Bible will result in you thinking that those 6 days are anything other than 24 hour days.
     
  11. Assyrian

    Assyrian Basically pulling an Obama (Thanks Calminian!)

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    I don't think you can limit a language by rules like that. Do you think the ancient Hebrews were aware that they could only use these word combinations if they were talking literally?

    Isaiah 17:11 though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow, yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain.

    Hosea 6:2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2012
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