Sunday, 14 February 2016

Genesis Unbound, by John Sailhammer

John H. Sailhammer, Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account, 1966, 2011

In this book, Old Testament scholar John Sailhammer articulated a radical new interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis which saw the chapter as focused not on the creation of the entire planet, but on the Garden of Eden, which Sailhammer identified with the promised land of Canaan.

Similar to the classic Gap Theory, Sailhammer distinguishes between the creative work of Genesis 1:1 and the creative work of the six days. He agrees with the Gap Theorists in seeing the entire cosmos as being completed in Genesis 1:1. However, he does not see a ruin and reconstruction in the rest of the chapter. He argues that Bible translations have misled readers with the phrase 'formless and void.' He claims they have been influenced by the Hellenistic idea of primordial matter. Instead he translates it as 'uninhabited and waste.' Pointing out that the Hebrew word of Earth can be translated as 'land,' he makes the case that the six days concern not the creation of the planet, but the preparing of the Garden, the original land of Israel as the home of humanity.

With its focus on the Garden of Eden, Sailhammer's view is similar to the cosmic temple view of John Walton. However, he differs from Walton in seeing Genesis 1:1 as a distinct creative act, where Walton sees the first verse as a summary of the rest of the chapter. Both views have an affinity with the idea articulated in Stephen Webb's Dome of Eden.

The popular Evangelical writer and preacher John Piper is well known for his acceptance of Sailhammer's view of Genesis. He believes it provides for an ancient creation of Earth and a recent creation of humanity. The problem is that science seems to point us towards not only an ancient Earth, but a prehistoric origin of humanity. What do we do with the evidence for early and prehistoric evolution of humanity? Sailhammer gives us a way of handling an ancient cosmos, but does not give us any answers regarding controversies about human origins.

The advantage of Sailhammer's view is that it enables us to take the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24 hour periods. It also ties Genesis 1 into the covenant purposes of God which come out in the later chapters of Genesis. I am not sure I go along with all of Sailhammer's exegesis, but I think he is on the right lines in this book.

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