Let the Bible Be the Bible: A Rejoinder

My friend and colleague Scot McKight wrote a post today, “Let the Bible be the Bible,” in his blog Jesus Creed in which he comments on my interpretation of Genesis 2:19. Scot wrote:

Sometimes what we want the Bible to be what it is not so we make the Bible what we want it to be and then we feel better about the Bible. Here’s a good example, taken from my friend and colleague, Claude Mariottini, and his new book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding. It comes from Genesis 2:19.

I do not want to repeat what Scot wrote. I encourage you to visit Scot’s blog and read his post. I want, though, to quote Scot’s conclusion:

What is happening here, acc to Claude and others, is the desire to make Genesis 2 fit Genesis 1 in spite of the grammar. It is far wiser to let the Bible be what it is, and that means the simple grammar of a past tense suggests Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are actually two different, and variant, accounts of creation, both drawn deep from Israel’s own history and that each has a different emphasis to bring to the table. Two stories are almost always better than one. Two views highlights more truth. It is best to let the Bible be what it is.

In response to what Scot wrote and in response to my interpretation of Genesis 2:19, two of Scot’s readers took issue with my interpretation of Genesis 2:19.

I wrote a long response to their comment, which I want to republish here:

I fully agree with Scot’s interpretation and I stand by what I wrote in my book. However, I have to disagree with Norman’s and Keith’s responses.

The problem with Norman’s response is that he takes the Bible out of the historical context, and when this is done, one produces interpretations that do not reflect what the Bible says. Here are a few examples.

1. Norman says that adam is Israel: “the desired end result for Israel will be Israel (adams) being made in God’s Image.” But, where in the Old Testament is ‘adam identified with Israel? And where does it say that Israel was created in the image of God? The word ‘adam simply means “human beings”: “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam [‘adam]” (Gen 5:1-2 KJV). Both the man and the woman are ‘adam.

2. Norman uses Hosea 2:18 to illustrate his interpretation by saying that the animals represent something, but he does not say what. Norman’s interpretation of Hosea 2:18 does not reflect what the prophet is trying to communicate to the people living in the Northern Kingdom. Because of the sins of the people, the whole land was suffering, including the animals: “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away” (Hos 4:3).

When Israel repents and the land is restored, God will make a covenant with Israel and with the animals. What Hosea meant was that the violation of the covenant brought judgment upon people and animals. The new covenant will restore the imbalance caused by Israel’s transgression of the covenant. Hosea 2:18 has nothing to do with Genesis 2.

3. Norman completely misunderstood the intent of Acts 10:11-15. I will not address his misinterpretation of this text.

Keith tries to defend the NIV’s translation of Genesis 2:19. The function of the waw consecutive is to continue the sense of the narrative and place it on the same level as the narrative that precedes the waw consecutive.

If the waw consecutive in wayyiser in Genesis 2:19 is to be translated “had formed” to indicate that the animals had already been created, then the same word wayyiser in Genesis 2:7 should be translated “had formed” to indicate that the man had already been created. But the NIV cannot say that the man had already been created because he was not yet created. So, the waw consecutive in Genesis 2:19 is saying the same thing: the animals had not yet been created. This is the reason almost every other translation has “formed.” This is the correct translation.

I tell my students: “When what you believe contradicts what the Bible says, do not change the Bible, change what you believe.” The problem in interpreting the Bible is that many people approach the Bible already knowing what they believe. So, when what the Bible says contradicts what they believe, they find ways to reinterpret the Bible in order to agree with what they think the Bible should say.

Let the Bible be the Bible.

In my book, Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding, I wrote:

The Bible was written in three languages. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a few chapters written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. Since most Christians do not know the biblical languages, they depend on translations of the Bible in order to read about the history of early Israel, the message of Christ, and the work of the apostles.

Although the Bible can be read and understood by people who do not know the original languages, at times, a knowledge of the biblical languages is necessary for the proper interpretation of a text. Translators of the Bible have a responsibility to communicate to readers the proper meaning of a text. When they fail to do so, readers are misled into believing something that the Bible does not say.

This is where the NIV fails the reader. The NIV interpretation of Genesis 2:19 is not correct and misinforms the reader.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in Bible, Book of Genesis, Exegesis, Translating, Translation Problems and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Let the Bible Be the Bible: A Rejoinder

  1. Pingback: No Scientific Revelation in the Bible

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s