Monday, August 25, 2014

Creation and False dichotomies

Most systematic theological treatments of Genesis 1-3 include these chapters in the doctrine of creaton, which entails the creation of the physical world ex nihilo, anthropology, constitution of man, imago Dei, fall, and perhaps the covenant of works. When one examines Genesis 1-3 from the systematic theological perspective, he sees a picture almost exclusively through the lens of ontology. It is perhaps this ontological lens that has led to the fragmented reading of Genesis 1-3, namely, examining the opening chapters of Scripture almost strictly in terms of the origin of man vis-a-vis Darwinian evolution. This fragmentary reading, in turn, has led to the misuse of Genesis in the battle between the claims of Darwin and the teachings of the Bible.


Redemptive history as whole, then, necessitates exploring Genesis 1-3 in terms of protology rather than creation. Moreover, one must recognize the connections between protology and eschatology, connections that have important implications for the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. [John V. Fesko, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology (Rossshire, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2007), 32-3]

What is Genesis 1-3 teaching? My former prof Dr. Fesko thinks that Genesis 1-3 is not trying to tell us anything about creation but is rather protology, in correspondence to eschatology. My main curiosity however is why must these two be put in contrast in the first place. The whole thing smells of a false dichotomy, as if Genesis 1-3 must be either about ontology, or about protology. Why must I choose one and not both?

An account that has no real correspondence to reality, to ontology, is purely literary. Literary accounts might have historical facts, but these are considered unimportant, for the main focus is purely literary, to show word associations, thematic progressions, and the development of various motifs. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with literary accounts per se. But can Genesis 1-3 function as a mere literary account, albeit somewhat historical (but not fully so)?

My main contention is that Genesis 1-3 cannot function as protology if one denies it as ontology. The literary exploration is a second order discourse, which presupposes the validity and truth of the first order ontological discourse. How can one claim an eschatology which happens in the real world while denying that the protology happened in the real world? Furthermore, if one says that the description is literary, then how does one deny that such would lead to a Neo-Orthodox view of saying that fiction conveys truth, since after all the particulars in Genesis 1-3 are claimed to be literarily not physically present. If one denies a literal Eden, a literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then should we expect there to be a literal heaven, a literal hell, a literal lake of fire, and so on? If so, where do we draw the line on what should we expect to be literal, and what not literal?

By all means, we should read Genesis 1-3 in light of all of Scripture with its typology, but let us not create false dichotomies and think we must choose between reading Genesis 1-3 plainly, and reading Genesis 1-3 typologically, as if one is antithetical to the other.


steve said...

"My former prof Dr. Fesko thinks that Genesis 1-3 is not trying to tell us anything about creation but is rather protology, in correspondence to eschatology."

If he thinks Gen 1-3 teaches nothing about the primeval past, then by parity of argument, does that mean he thinks eschatology/endtime prophecies teach us nothing about the future?

PuritanReformed said...


to be fair, he does think that Gen. 1-3 teaches us something about the primeval past. Except this "something" is not really defined, just that it describes something broadly historical.

Good point, and I guess if I really want to know how he would respond, I would ask him.