Concerns over selective reading of Genesis (@Dave42W)

Last November for the second time our Methodist Circuit followed a month long Bible Reading plan. This was a follow-up to a popular challenge the year before to read the whole New Testament in 30 days. This time the plan led people to read the whole of Genesis and Exodus plus 1 Psalm a day during November.

Genesis 6

During the reading challenge we arranged small group sessions for people to discuss progress and explore any issues raised by what they had been reading.

Looking back on the experience has led me to reflect on the dangers of the way I have grown up reading Genesis.

Stories from Genesis tend to be popular with Sunday Schools and in Children’s Bibles. I suspect that Genesis gets a far greater share of time than would be expected if it were allocated according to it’s length. The reason is probably a combination of coming first and the great stories in there (Creation, Noah and Joseph being good examples).

I have noticed in my reflections and in discussions on line that:

Firstly, many of us don’t have a very full picture of how the various stories that we have grown up with fit together. Or of the whole of the life of the various heroes of faith.

Secondly, our understanding of Genesis is typically built up from a very selective reading of Genesis. We read (or are told and remember) stories of great heroes of the faith, of amazing things by God. However, we don’t share, teach or often read the bits in between or how they connect together.

This means that often our understanding of Genesis and the way we apply it is based on only a small part of the text, typically taken out of context. Essentially, we have created a canon within a canon (a smaller bible created by ignoring some parts).

I want to suggest that this is dangerous, it can lead us astray.

I want to suggest that we be on the lookout for arguments that are built upon careful selections within the text (this does not only apply to Genesis but being the first book with such well known and loved stories and heroes it happens a lot with Genesis).

It can be as simple as selectively choosing verses from  Genesis chapters 1 and 2 so that the reader does not see 2 accounts of creation and does not realise that the Garden of Eden is part of the second. In chapter 1 six days of creation culminates in God creating humankind, in chapter 2 the order is quite different with Adam created much earlier. Being selective can be used (not always, after all Genesis is long so we will often need to be selective due to time/space constraints) to try to support particular views, to hide complexity and potential alternative views such as in discussions on gender.

In the same way we can often see the heroes of Genesis such as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph in very selective and typically favourable lights. It seems to me that the danger here is that challenges to emulate certain aspects of them today ignore so many facets of their lives and relationships with God that they are no longer faithful to scripture. A less selective approach highlights the gap between our cultures, our understanding and between their understanding of faith and the gospel message of Jesus.

In particular it has always been my understanding that we should be seeking to explore and even to understand Genesis in the light of the Gospel of Jesus, but that light needs to be applied to the whole of Genesis, not to a selective reading.

So my plea is first to actually read the whole of Genesis to remind yourself of the flow and the bigger picture. Secondly, when arguments are made from Genesis to read wider to see how the text being used fits, to look at the whole story of the hero you are being told to emulate, if only to make your own selection (for example to seek to emulate Abraham’s obedience but nit his cowardly lying).

For those of us exploring our faith in social media this is a great area in which to support and encourage each other by sharing our understanding, approaches and challenges.

About Dave42W

A Methodist Minister serving in the Leicester North Circuit. Married to Jane for 23 years with three sons. Mad about mission, cycling, feminism, the Bible and too many other things to list.