My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Two: Reading Genesis 1–2: A Literal Approach, by Todd S. Beall.
Now I offer a few thoughts on the next chapter:
At the time of publication, Collins was/is “Professor of Old Testament in the Dept. of Scripture and Interpretation at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He has a long list of achievements and publications in the interpretation of Genesis and understanding of creation, and brings scientific as well as theological training to the task. I was quite impressed years ago with his article, “How Old Is the Earth? Anthropomorphic Days in Genesis 1:1-2:3,” Presbyterion 20 (1994), 109-130, and he has more recently published:
C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsberg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).
Collins, C. John. “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matter,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2009), 147–165.
Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).
Collins’ position has remained consistent over the two decades or so since the first-mentioned article was published, and is reflected in the present chapter. The 2nd and 3rd titles actually reflect where the heat is in Genesis debates at the moment – not the age of the earth, the Genesis 1 days or evolution per se, but whether we should insist that Adam and Eve were literal people. Earlier in the present volume Collins cites N.T. Wright in a kind of cautious support for a historical Adam and Even (see p. 64 and footnotes), but that is not really discussed in the chapter under review.
Central to Collin’s ultimately non-literal stance on the creation days is the idea that the creation days represent the main anthropomorphic figure of Genesis 1. In other words, God is portrayed as creating the world in six days on the analogy of a human work week, and ceasing on the seventh as a law-abiding Israelite would need to do to observe the Sabbath. Collins’ title makes clear how important the word ‘analogy’ is for him, and elsewhere in the book Averbeck (p. 31) and Walton (p. 38) own it for their own positions. Collins, therefore, is saying that just as the forming of the man from the ground as if by modelling clay in Gen 2:7 is anthropomorphic, describing the work of God as if using human methods of formation, God’s occupation of seven days in the work of creation is also anthropomorphic (though the chapter otherwise is much less anthropomorphic than subsequent chapters) (p. 78). For someone like Beall, this is back-to-front: he would want to say that our work week is seven days because God’s was seven days long originally. Some Christians would be much in harmony with that question, while others might feel that envisaging God as scheduling his creative work out over 24 hours (or 12 daylight hours?) per day is being just a bit too literal.
- Genesis 1 should be interpreted in context. For Collins, this emerges as the rather strict stance that not only can we not speak of two separate creation accounts (p. 79), but the events of Genesis 2 should be understood as occurring on Day 6 of creation (p. 78, 80-81). I would share Walton’s reservations in response to this (p. 101); I think it creates problems, and that we can understand the two chapters to be “coherent without being overlapping.”
- Genesis 1:1 describes an initial creation event “that took place some time before the main storyline of Gen 1 got under way” (p. 89). He cites the discourse-analytical research of Robert Longacre and Randall Buth in support here, but unless my own grasp of discourse analysis is out to lunch, I think Collins has misconstrued this and that Averbeck’s understanding of the opening verse of Genesis 1 as an anticipatory summary for the whole story related in 1:1–2:3 is more exegetically and linguistically sound (p. 95).
- Genesis 1:1–2:3 is ‘proto-history’ while ‘ordinary historical narrative’ ensues from Gen 2:4. Beall calls him out on this, correctly, when he comments, “…if we really want to talk about things that are outside the realm of “normal,” how about Gen 2–3, where we have the tree of life,…talking snakes,” etc. Beall would like to call the whole lot historical narrative, so his argument is somewhat self-defeating, but nonetheless pointed. I don’t think we can say Genesis 2–3 is plain, vanilla-flavoured history either.
- Collins rightly calls Walton out for claiming, “It is only our post-Enlightenment, Western way of thinking that focuses so steadfastly and exclusively on physical structure and formational history” (p. 90 n. 52). Collins is right that this is a false antithesis on Walton’s part. “Jews and Christians in the Hellenistic world also had such an interest,” and I can testify that it survives right through patristic and medieval eras and into the Reformation and beyond. It’s just that it physical creation did not have the field to itself! There were many competing interpretive interests, such as Christology, contemplative mysticism, metaphysics, etc. Walton’s entirely functional interpretation of Genesis 1 amounts, I believe, to a small-target strategy: science can’t prove Genesis wrong if Genesis makes no claims and displays no interest in the physical world. But in fact it does, though not in our terms. And though Collins says that Genesis 1 does not offer “a taxonomy in any scientific, or even utilitarian, sense,” (p. 85), I would go further and say that it does offer a basic taxonomy of living creation. There are stock animals, crawling animals, and wild animals, for example, created on Day Six.
- Lastly, Collins sees the focus of the six-day creation account as being the formation of the world as a place for humans to live (p. 86). I think this is right: what creation lacks in Gen. 1:2 is the circumstances for life, which are supplied in 1:3–31. The same is true for Genesis 2. And I think it is in Collins’ discussion of the circumstances of Gen. 2:5–6 that we see where Collins’ interpretive debts lie, a source cited immediately by Averbeck (p. 93):
Kline, Meredith G. “Because It Had Not Rained,” Westminster Theological Journal 20 (May 1958), 146–157.
Kline is best-known as the twentieth-century exponent of the ‘framework hypothesis’, and I would see Collins’ anthropomorphic or analogical days position as essentially in harmony with it. Despite my reservations about some of Collins’ (and Kline’s) arguments, I am mostly in harmony with this position myself. That is, I do believe that the creation week functions as an anthropomorphism. I share with Augustine and others the sense that to think God literally required a week to do his creative work is slightly absurd. Which is not to say that God didn’t give us the week and its Sabbath day as a way to live before him. So long as we do not despise Paul and return to the Law when we have been, as believers in Christ, inducted into the realm of grace! Even the Sabbath can be turned from a good spiritual principle back into an oppressive law!