Mar 19

In the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 and the Authority of Scripture, by EJ Young ★★★★★

EJ Young was one of the scholars that help define early Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his theological training at Westminster, then later joined the faculty, following Machen and many others in their split from the PCUSA denomination. Dr. Young was a Hebrew scholar whose most definitive work was the three volume commentary on the book of Isaiah. Dr. Young’s distinctive is his high view of Scripture, and his use of Scripture as the starting point for exegesis of the text.

In this very brief and non-technical text, and in 13 quite brief chapters, he summarizes his thoughts on Genesis 1-3, while offering commentary on the new (at that time) liberal trends in the interpretation of Scripture. He does not view Genesis 1-3 as allegory or myth or Geschicte, but rather, as a definite history. He is very careful not to take a young earth or old earth stance and is frequent in claiming that there is only so much that is knowable from the text itself. Thus, idle controversies as to precisely how God created the world remains (for Dr. Young) outside of the realm of authoritative speculation. Young is very adamant in defining Adam (and Eve) as real people, and as the first people of the human race. Scripture to him is quite clear that Adam did NOT evolve, but was created de novo (probably based on animal models already in existence) from scratch by God. The fall was accompanied by a real snake and the fruit (we have no clue what fruit it might have been) from a real tree.

I enjoyed reading this book, as I am in complete agreement with Young’s approach to Scripture. It is sad that so many academic theologians are leaning away from Young’s approach to Scripture, and using Scripture as something that can be analyzed, inspected, disassembled and reassembled, and critiqued. Young would be horrified to see this attitude coming even from very conservative schools of thought, and bewildered as to why scholars of a conservative bent would have a problem with starting with Scripture as the veritable God-breathed word.

There is perhaps another way of stating Young’s approach to Scripture which is not in the book itself. Modern scholarship would rate God as a flunky in the realm of being able to communicate to man. God, in contemporary minds, had a serious problem identifying the challenges that His Word might present to the modern intellectual scientific mind, and did a terrible job at making clear that His word really is not history, but just allegory, or to be interpreted in some other mystical way. Countless generations through thousands of years have wrongly identified His word as history, if you buy the new “think” on Biblical interpretation. One “out” for theologians is to simply claim that God is so transcendent that any communication would have been impossible in verbal form. Yet, if such were true, we should not pretend that we could know anything at all about God. Young’s approach is to consider Scripture as perfect, timeless communication between the timeless-infinite God and finite (space-time contained) man. Young is excellent at identifying passages that give us a problem, such as the heavenly bodies being created on the fourth day. In my view, it’s better to simply say you don’t know than to try to offer an explanation that does travesty to the words of God in Scripture.

So, this book is excellent. I have sitting on my reading list a more technical version of this book by Dr. Young (Studies in Genesis 1) but it may take me a while to get to that text. Also, it has much Hebrew in it, meaning that it would be a very slow read for me. This book is more for the layman, and I highly recommend it to anybody interested.

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2 Responses to “In the Beginning”

  1. Bruder Dennis says:

    A few comments on Young’s subject-matter –

    1. “… there is only so much that is knowable from the text itself.”
    Young’s tendency to not try to read too much into the text is a good one. I have not yet encountered anyone among Christians who has wondered about the scope of the creation account. Everyone just assumes – driven on by the penchant for infinity among Greek philosophers and medieval theologians – that it encompasses the entire universe of about 10^20 star systems, though the text only refers to the “heavens and the earth”. The whole universe -most of it, anyway – is not visible in the heavens, and the heavenly bodies identified are in our solar system. Isn’t the creation of a solar system enough of a feat in itself? Of course, the larger question of the rest of the universe is left unanswered, but could it be that God has not chosen to tell us everything about the creation of the universe?

    2. At the same time as accepting the account as historical, this does not mean that Hebrew metaphors are not used. For instance, the meaning of trees in scripture have to do with counsel or wisdom, and this metaphor appears in the Genesis account.

    3. Almost nobody except Conrad Hyers in his book, The Meaning of Creation recognizes that the main purpose of the account is the refutation of paganism. I’ll leave this to Hyers to explain.

    • Kenneth Feucht says:

      In reply
      1. Naturally, Scripture is not comprehensive nor exhaustive, but sufficient.
      2. I’m not sure anybody objects to that.
      3. I’ve read Hyers. Many, many others have shown how Genesis 1-3 refute paganism, though that is not the primary objective of Genesis 1-3. Jack Collins offers a strong anti-paganism argument, with an academic summary. I don’t have immediate references available.

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