By David Buck
I appreciate the perspective of those in the faith community who contend for a biblically literalistic understanding of cosmic origins. My experience of and commitment to God, however, leads me to take Holy Scripture very seriously but not literalistically.
Who of us takes Matthew 5:29 literalistically: “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away?”
If not literalistically, then how? It depends on the historical context and the literary genre of the biblical passage, whether it is Matthew 5:29 or Genesis 1:1.
Bruce Metzger, a leading textual critic of the Bible, in a lecture series entitled "The Unity and Diversity of Scriptures," said, “The Bible doesn’t mean what it says, it means what it means.”
In other words, it honors God and Scripture not to take Matthew 5:29 literalistically, but rather to take its message about sin seriously. It honors Christ, who in my opinion, did not expect followers to disfigure themselves, but who rather used hyperbole (rhetorical exaggeration) to drive home his point.
When it comes to Genesis, chapters 1-2, the accounts of creation, let’s ask this question of the text, “Is God permitted to inspire poetic saga?” (again, Metzger). Indeed, is God permitted to inspire fiction, long boring lists, diatribes, apocalyptic writings, poetry, as well as historical accounts and theological reflections? Well, yeah! I believe it honors God and the Bible to read it attentive to the genre of writing and in a more right-brained, sometimes non-linear fashion.
I believe that Genesis 1:1-2:25 is not science, nor an alternative to modern evolutionary theory, but rather an inspired poetic ode to creation and to God.
When we understand Genesis that way, we honor God and can learn from those who apply their minds to understanding scientifically how it all came about. If all truth is One, what do we have to fear from the advance of knowledge and search for that truth?
David Buck is rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson.