Monday, 28 January 2019

Appealing to Mark 10:6-8 doesn't mean there aren't two divergent creation accounts.

Outside of the extremes of fundamentalist Christianity, there is a strong consensus that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two separate creation accounts which when read literally differ significantly in terms of the duration of creation, order of events, and the nature of God as revealed in how he is described as creating. [1] One common fundamentalist attempt to argue away this problem an appeal to Mark 10:6-8, where Jesus quotes from both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Their argument is that by quoting from Gen 1 and Gen 2, Jesus is showing that he believed the accounts were not in tension. This is of course patently unconvincing if only because the differences between the creation narratives are not resolved simply by appealing to the NT passage. Context is also important as the point being argued was divorce rather than creation.

The differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not trivial, with the former asserting creation occurred in six days while the latter declares it happened on one day. Other differences include the order of creation, with the latter declaring Adam was created first, then the garden, land animals, and finally Eve. This order is markedly different to that of Genesis 1 which en passant notes that many humans were created. The scale of these differences [2] can readily be seen in the diagram below:

As Peter Enns aptly notes
These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there...It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation. [3]
Of course, given that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 come from two different literary sources (P and J, respectively), none of this should really be surprising. [4] What we have here are two different accounts of creation from two different traditions, which later were edited into a literary unit. The OT scholar Mark Smith argues persuasively in  The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 that Genesis 1 (a later text) is a commentary on the earlier creation text in Genesis 2. He notes:
It has often been argued that the two creation accounts were connected by means of an editorial link between the story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a and the story in 2:4b and following. In this respect, the two halves of Genesis 2:4, that is verse 4a and verse 4b, serve as a kind of editorial hinge. This requires a little explanation. Genesis 2:4a contains a genealogical heading ("generations," toledot), as we also see in Genesis 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:19, and 37:2. This would suggest that 2:4a is designed to serve as the first of these other genealogical headings," and that it is itself the first of these. In other words, Genesis 2:4a now stands as the head text of the generations of creation. To establish a frame for the whole story of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, verse 2:4a adopts the order of "heaven and earth" found in 1:1. To connect 1:1-2:4a with the story of verse 2:4b and following, verse 2:4a refers to creation as the "generations (toledot) of heaven and earth." In this respect, verse 2:4a indicates that what came before serves as prologue to what comes after. As a result, Genesis 1:1-2:3 conveys the meaning of the order of creation of "heaven and earth" in 2:4b and serves as its prologue. The implied commentary is that the generations of later genealogies are integrally related to the generations of heaven and earth in 1:1-2:4a. Since toledot is a priestly term, the choice of this particular word shows a priestly hand at work in Genesis 2:4a. This priestly compiler and editor added Genesis 2:4a to link the two creation stories of Genesis 1-2, and in turn both narratives are linked to the rest of Genesis in characterizing it as "generations," a term woven into the fabric of the rest of the book.
The role of commentary is not confined to the editorial addition of Genesis 2:4a. The text of 1:1-2:3 also functions as commentary. The verbal affinities between the so-called "two creation accounts" noted by a number of scholars point to commentary being made by Genesis 1:1-2:3 on Genesis 2:4b and following. [5]
Of course, if Genesis 1 serves as a commentary on Genesis 2, and Genesis 2:4 has been crafted to connect two narratives, then any apparent unity is not authorial but rather editorial, a point Smith ably makes when he notes how "we have in Genesis 1-2 what Luis Alonso Schokel has called 'secondary unity'. 'A later writer could take already completed pieces and bring them together skillfully to form a new and complex unity.'" [6] Given that some fundamentalists still appeal to compositional patterns (real or imagined) such as chiasmus as 'proof' of unity of authorship, recognition of the existence of redaction in the Bible is helpful if only to avoid continuing to make the mistake of ignoring the existence of two sources in the first two chapters of Genesis.

Appealing to Mark 10 Doesn't Work

In Mark 10:1-12, the writer provides his version of Jesus' teaching on divorce which for context and completeness I have reproduced below:
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Emphasis mine)
The emphasised parts are quotations from Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24; the fundamentalist argument is that given Jesus is reported as quoting from Gen 1 and Gen 2, he must have regarded Gen 1 and Gen 2 not as two different creation accounts, but as part of a single unity.

The biggest flaw with this argument is of course the fact that it makes no attempt to cope with the considerable evidence that Gen 1 and Gen 2 represent two different creation accounts that cannot be harmonised without doing harm to both narratives. It simply appeals to the fact two quotations from these chapters are concatenated, assumes this implies Jesus held the same views as the fundamentalists on the authorial unity of the two chapters, then imports the authority of Jesus into the fundamentalist interpretation of the chapters. Given that Jesus readily accommodated beliefs about demons, any attempt to proof-text this passage without keeping in mind the fact Jesus could be accommodating contemporary interpretations and assumptions about a passage for rhetorical purposes is at best risky. [7]

The argument also ignores the context of Mark 10. Jesus is making a point about divorce, and is appealing to a passage that his critics regarded as authoritative to make his point, rather than making a denial-in-advance of evolution. Failing to grasp both the context and the fact Jesus can - and did - cite extant interpretations of Scripture not to validate those interpretations but for rhetorical effect leads to the fundamentalist error. As always, if you bring out from scripture what you read in, you have committed eisegesis.

1. While there is no shortage of attempts by fundamentalist amateurs to explain away this problem, the fact that these attempts do not appear in the mainstream scholarly literature and therefore have not been subject to scholarly review prior to publication means they can be seen not as serious contributions to the literature but rather apologetics designed to reassure nervous fellow-fundamentalists that all is well. Given their provenance, these attempted explanations can be readily dismissed out of hand.
2. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.
3. ibid
4. "The generally acknowledged conclusion that Gen 2–3 is to be attributed to a different literary source (J) from Gen 1 (P) is presupposed. All of the many studies of Gen 2–3 make this clear. Today there are only a very few exegetes who think that Gen 1–3 was from the beginning a unified account of creation." Claus Westermann, A Continental Commentary: Genesis 1–11 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 186.
5. Mark S. Smith. The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010) 129-130
6. ibid, p 131 
7. An excellent example is found in John 10:34-36 where Jesus quotes Psa 82:6. However, as scholars note, Psalm 82:6 in its original context is referring to the gods of the nations whom YHWH is sentencing to 'die like men', something that would be redundant if the subjects of verse 6 were humans. Again, what we have here is Jesus using contemporary interpretations of a passage to make a rhetorical point rather than affirming as normative that interpretation. Hossfeld and Zenger note that "This Johannine way of dealing with the literal sense of a biblical text, which seems unusual from a present–day perspective, can in no way be evaluated as if John here intended to give an authoritative interpretation of Psalm 82. In our opinion that is absolutely never the case when a text of Israel’s “scripture” is quoted in the NT; “scripture” here has the function of legitimating and explicating Johannine Christology." Frank-Lothar Hossfeld and Erich Zenger, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, ed. Klaus Baltzer, trans. Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 337.

Thom Stark likewise argues that "[t]he standard interpretation of that passage in Jesus’ day was that the ones who are called “gods” are the Israelites at Sinai. Jesus assumes this interpretation when he says, “those to whom the word of God came.” In other words, when Israel was given the law at Sinai, according to this interpretation of the psalm, they were called “gods.” This meant either that they were God’s representatives on earth, or that they were rendered immortal at that time, until they later sinned again (as some Rabbis concluded). Regardless, in order to defend his application of the term “son of God” to himself, Jesus appeals to the fact that Israelites are all called “gods” at Sinai. What Jesus is doing is using his opponents’ own scriptures against them." Thom Stark, The Human Faces of God, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 51-52