YECs Misquoting Hebrew Scholars on the Genesis Interpretation
In a former post, I argue that the original Hebrew in Genesis required a completely literal understanding of a creation week consisting of literal twenty-four hour days. I also pointed out that for the last two-thousand years, both Jews and Christians had read and understood in non-literalistic ways, and that their views were quite diverse. (See: “On the Interpretation of Genesis.”) However, this itself does not do away with some of the comebacks that many Young Earth Creationists have. Some of them insist that a literal six day creation with a young earth and a global flood is a requirement by the actual Hebrew grammar, and that therefore any other interpretation that doesn’t fit in with the young earth is invalid.
One Hebrew Scholar that is often appealed to by young earth Creationists is James Barr from Oxford. In an article from Creation Ministries International, a 1984 letter he wrote is quoted as saying:
‘ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that
- creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
- the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
- Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’
After this, the writers claim that James Barr “understood what the Hebrew writer clearly intended to be understood. Some criticize our use of the Barr quote, because he does not believe in the historicity of Genesis,” essentially implying that Barr is claiming that the grammar demands the young earth interpretation. To strengthen their case, they point out that since he doesn’t believe Genesis is to believed as history that he is a “hostile witness.”
Oh, ouch! I guess this is bad news for me, being a Christian “Theistic-Evolutionist,” since I do not see the Bible was ever intended to give a complete record of natural history, and for believing (as I do) that if the flood of Noah happened, that it was a local event (See: “The ‘Global’ Deluge: Is it Unbiblical?“). Well, considering what Barr says, to remain consistent, I guess I should re-evaluate my view, shouldn’t I?
Well, not so fast. There is another portion of the letter that they “neglected” to quote where Barr clarifies his position:
The only thing I would say to qualify this is that most professors may avoid much involvement in that sort of argument and so may not say much explicitly about it one way or the other. But I think what I say would represent their position correctly. However, you might find one or two people who would take the contrary point of view and are competent in the languages, in Assyriology, and so on: it’s really not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence, as of appreciation of the sort of text that Genesis is.
Notice Barr says that the conclusion he drew upon was “not so much a matter of technical linguistic competence,” which by itself demolishes the argument that the YECs are making that their interpretation is demanded by the Hebrew text itself; not to mention he adds that most of the professors would tend to avoid this issue not saying anything on the topic on one side or the other. He then adds that he “thinks” he represents the position of the others in his field, but that indicates that he really doesn’t know. Ultimately, he ends up making several qualifications; as such, his letter cannot be cited as viable support for the young earth position.
James Barr letter (23 April 1984) available at: http://members.iinet.com.au/~sejones/barrlett.html
Whitefield, Rodney. Genesis One and the Age of the Earth: What Does the Bible Say? Available online at: http://www.creationingenesis.com/Genesis_One_and_the_Age_of_the_Earth.pdf