A Brief Look at the Genesis Framework
Note: This is merely a brief overview and not an in-depth, extensive defense of the framework hypothesis
I have espoused a certain degree of skepticism about Neo-Ussherianism (e.g. here, here, and here). Along with an endorsement of an old Earth comes the questions of how to interpret the opening passages of the book of Genesis. There are two broad categories that are usually denoted ‘literal’ and ‘non-literal’. In the first category, the days of Genesis 1 are taken as actual demarcations of time that are either 24 hours in length (calendar day view) or unspecified but several million or billion years in length (day-age view). At one point or another, I have endorsed both of these perspectives, but, for exegetical reasons have abandoned them. The most critical error would be the issue of light temporally preceding any of the light bearers (e.g. sun, moon, and stars). For an in depth perspective, consult this paper where Meredith Kline brilliantly combines the light issue with Genesis 2:5 to make a potent case against the literal view.
It’s not uncommon for people to be uncomfortable with the idea of a non-literal Genesis. Often, the charge is made that if Genesis 1 can’t be taken entirely literally then the entire Bible can’t be taken literally. Similarly, the issue of a non-literal opening of Genesis leads to a non-historical Adam which then unravels the theology of Romans 5. However, these are unwarranted concerns. A Scriptural passage can detail history in a framework or other poetic structure without being entirely metaphor. For example, Judges 4 and 5 describe a (literal) battle that Israel fought but the chapters use two completely different styles. So, “history or mythology” is a false dichotomy. When approaching the Genesis narrative, it reads most like a Poetic-Structural narrative.
Now, there are several markers that are used to determine whether a passage fits in the poetic-structural genre. First, it must be chiastic or strophic in structure. These correspond roughly to poems in the form of A-B-C-A-B-C-D (strophic) and A-B-C-D-C-B-A (chiastic).
Next, it must have four of the following six characteristics:
- repetition of traditionally symbolic numbers [e.g. 7, 10, 3]
- word plays
- parallelism on the sentence level
- rhyme and meter
Half 1 is in the strophic form. A-B-C corresponds to Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 which are the “forming days” i.e. God is creating the realms for the future inhabitants. The second A-B-C series corresponds to Day 4, Day 5, and Day 6 where these are the days of “filling” i.e. each realm is filled with its respective inhabitants. D corresponds to Day 7, the Sabbath which is wholly different from the rest of the creation week and operates as a termination point.
A: God creates the realm of Light
B: God creates the realm of Sky/Water
C: God creates the realm of Land/Vegetation
A: God fills Realm 1 with Luminaries
B: God fills Realm 2 with Birds/Fish
C: God fills Realm 3 with Land Creatures/Humanity
D: Sabbath termination of creation event.
Half 2 is in the chiastic form where the literary symmetry is much like a parabola. The points are as follows
A: God places humanity in the Garden
B: God speaks bringing all the beasts of the fields, creates Eve, establishes ideal marriage relationship
C: Temptation to forsake God and warning of spiritual death
D: Man and woman break their initial covenant with God
C’: Consequences of forsaking God and experience of spiritual death
B’: God speaks cursing the snake amongst all the beasts of the field, spells out the negative implications for husband-wife relationship outside of the covenant
A’: God banishes humanity from the Garden
Having met the first criterion, the remaining are as follows
- There are several examples of special numbers being used. Here is just a small sample: The phrases “let there be”, “make”, “and it was so” each occur 7 times in the passage. Verse 1 employs 7 Hebrew words.
- The phrase “and God saw that it was good” (which also occurs 7 times) is a play on words with the Hebrew phrase for “desolate” in verse 2. Additional examples include “naked” with “cunning”, and “tree” with “pain”.
- Parallelism on the sentence level is best seen in the triple repetition of verse 27: “So God created man in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them”
- The ten lines after verse 27 all hold to the same Hebrew rhyme and meter scheme
- There’s lots of dramatic imagery such as the total desolation of Earth and the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. Also, the Tree of Life is strongly contrasted with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
- Lastly, there are lots of similes and metaphors including “you will be like God”, God “walking in the Garden during the cool of day”, God “breathing into the man the breath of life”.
Given all of this background, it seems immensely probable to believe that Genesis 1-3 is intended to be a poetic-structural narrative that is intended neither to be a straightforward historical account nor pure mythology. While these opening passages proclaim that God carefully created this universe and planet, they do not explain with precision how He accomplished this.
- Because it Had Not Rained by Meredith Kline
- Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony by Meredith Kline
I borrowed many of the examples from Dr. Kirk MacGregor.
- MacGregor, Kirk R. “Inerrancy and the Importance of Reading Scripture Biblio-Critically.” A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology. University of America, 2007. 171-93. Print.
- Website: http://kirkmacgregor.org/