Clarke Morledge at Veracity has written a very thoughtful post on the problems of interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 literally. His post, Does Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict One Another? is worth reading. I encourage those who are troubled by the differences found in these two chapters of Genesis to read Clarke’s post.
In his post, Clarke mentions one chapter in my book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding. What follows is an excerpt from Clarke’s post:
In recent years, some of the more popular Bible translations actually take the approach proposed by those like the New Scofield editors. If you look at the NIV translation of these verses (the ESV is similar), you get this idea actually translated in the text:
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden… (v.8)
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky… (v.19)
I am no Hebrew expert, but I have found it interesting to learn that what the NIV (and ESV) have done here may not be appropriate. The problem is whether or not the Hebrew verb tense for “plant” and “form” really allows for this type of rendering. Claude Mariottini, Old Testament scholar at Northern Baptist Seminary, argues that this translation is an unacceptable violation of Hebrew grammar rules, in his book Rereading the Biblical Text. Jesus Creed blogger, Scot McKnight concurs with Mariottini’s assessment (read the comments section of the Jesus Creed post, too… very insightful). Houston Baptist University Old Testament scholar, Charles Halton, retells the story of how he eventually changed his mind and concluded that the NIV and ESV, though well intended, got it wrong.
If this criticism is correct, then the NIV and ESV appear to be more driven by the desire to harmonize Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 instead of allowing the literal interpretations of the verses in question to stand as they are. This is really ironic considering that proponents of the harmonization theory often make the appeal to “the literal interpretation” of Scripture.
Both the NIV and the ESV try to harmonize Genesis 1 and 2 in order to solve the apparent contradictions in the biblical text. In my book I show how the translation of the NIV is wrong and why it goes against the rules of Hebrew grammar. I also show how some scholars defend this harmonization in order to maintain the integrity of the biblical text.
My book deals with many similar problems in the Old Testament. For those who are not familiar with my book, the following is the promotional information found at Amazon.com
Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding deals with problems scholars face in translating Hebrew words and sentences into contemporary English. Modern readers have many choices when selecting a translation of the Bible for personal use. Translators seek to convey to today’s readers the message the biblical writers tried to communicate to their original readers. At times, however, what the original authors tried to convey to their audience was not clear. Claude Mariottini has selected several difficult passages from the Old Testament and compared how different translations have dealt with these difficult texts. Pastors, seminary students, and serious students of the Bible will be challenged to reread the biblical text and understand the message of the biblical writers in a new perspective.
You can buy my book at Amazon.com.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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