The questions we are faced when we seek to interpret Genesis 1 and 2.
Before diving into Sailhamer’s book, Genesis Unbound we need to lay out a list of some questions concerning the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 that any consistent interpretation of this text must be address. This is far from a comprehensive but they are the ones that are most relevant to our discussion of Sailhamer’s hypothesis since he will be addressing each of these challenges.
1) What is the relationship of Genesis 1 and 2? Why are there two creation narratives? Do they contradict each other? His and my answer to the latter question is, No. That said any interpretation of these narratives must provides a convincing explanation for apparent contradictions that are apparent in any superficial reading of the text.
2) When was the universe created? Was it created on the “first day” or before the first day? Is the creation of the universe even a topic of interest of the author of Genesis?
3) What does the phrase “heavens and earth” in Genes is 1:1 refer to? Does this refer to an unformed chaotic mass a material that God then molds in the six days? Does the Hebrew word translated as “earth” refer to all matter or just the earth or something else? Does “earth” mean the same thing when included in the phrase “heavens and earth” as it does elsewhere in Genesis 1?
4) What is the nature of the light that was created on the first day?
5) Related to #4, did God create/make the stars, moon and sun on the fourth day?
6) Do the six days refer to literal “normal” days? No sense maintaining any mystery here, Sailhamer says–yes. The author of Genesis is using days in our normal sense but we will see that this is of no comfort to “literal-day” creationists such as Ken Ham.
7) On what day did God create plants? This sounds like an easy question to answer but Sailhamer will delve into the details of what God created on the third day.
8) Why is there no mention of God’s saying what he made was “good on the second day?” He did make something on the second day so why was it not good? Clearly, Genesis 1 and 2 are finely crafted texts. There are no unintended and thus unimportant words. The missing reference to “good” here cannot be an accident. Sailhamer concludes it tells us something about the focus of the text and how we are to interpret it.
9) Think of what “good” means. Many equate it with perfect but we tend to have a very man-centered idea of what perfection is. What is God’s definition of “good.” This is one area where creation science slips badly into using very man-centered interpretations of what this means and are not using the Scripture to interpret Scripture.
10) To whom was this narrative directed and does this have any significance in the meaning of the text? Obviously this is a difficult but essential question. Again, I won’t keep you in suspense here; Sailhamer does not argue that we need to interpret Genesis in light of the Pagan peoples and myths that surrounded Canaan. Sailhamer does not say that Genesis mimics the literature of the day as a means of “putting the story right.” But neither is the text wholly devoid on an ancient near-east cultural context.
11) What is the author’s purpose for mentioning specific rivers and other physical features of the lands around Eden in Genesis 2?
12) Is the region outside of the Garden of Eden described in Genesis 2? It is isn’t how can we know what the rest of the world was like? Put another way, does the ecology of the Garden of Eden extend out into all of Eden and the rest of the world?
These are just a few of the questions to keep in mind as you evaluate any interpretation of the Genesis creation narratives. My overview of Sailhamer’s views won’t provide detailed answers for all of these questions but will give you a sense for how Sailhamer approaches each of them. His presents a thesis that proposes how the answers to all these questions can be knit together to form an interpretation that is faithful to the scriptures while providing a meaningful guide to those that struggle to understand the modern world in light of the God’s revelation in Genesis.
I will begin by providing an overview of Sailhamer’s Historical Creation view mostly in his own words.