C. S. Lewis, Linguistics, and the Literal Reading of Genesis

A Review of C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History,
Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1–11 There is a blindspot
hampering most debates about the early chapters of Genesis. In recent
centuries, traditional interpretations of the creation and flood
narratives were challenged by advances in astronomy, geology, and
evolutionary biology. Now in the…

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I am now reading a book by Dan Barker, called Mere Morality, that goes along C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity book and shows that you can have all the goodness and kindness without Christianity, in fact without any supernatural beliefs.

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I wasn’t aware that this was in dispute. Christianity has only been around for a couple thousand years. And according to the beliefs of some religions the moral law is written in our hears, which to me means it’s part of who we are, our nature. Even if became so through evolution it’s still there and present, and God is the ultimate source. So i don’t even care if “evolutiondidit.”


(1) Of course, the Bible, especially in Genesis, says that all humans are created in the Image of God and therefore all are capable of positive traits like goodness and kindness—long before Jesus Christ brought Christianity. So, as @Mung points outs, this is nothing surprising for people who are familiar with the Bible.

(2) @Patrick, I’m curious as to why you introduced the book on a thread entitled “C.S. Lewis, Linguistics, and the Literal Reading of Genesis”—and on a thread based upon a book by C. John Collins—rather than on a separate thread. Is there a connection between the two books of which I am unaware?

(3) I’ve not read the Collins book (I don’t have the book budget I once had) but from what I’ve heard about it from others, Collins does a great job of helping the reader become aware of the latest linguistics and discoveries relevant to grappling with Genesis 1-11. One of the many changes I observed in my own lifetime was observing the virtual linguistics ignorance of even many of the most famous Bible commentators of the WWII generation rapidly eclipsed by increasingly linguistically-savvy Biblical scholars from the 1970’s onward. It has been fascinating to watch the changes in the Biblical exegesis academy—and then to wonder how long it will take for the average expositor and layperson to catch up. The gap is still quite wide.

POSTSCRIPT: I got to know Carl & Helga Henry in their senior years (and my own research and ministry benefited from the largess of their foundation), so I always remember them fondly whenever I see mention of the Henry Center for Theological Understanding. Carl’s autobiography is an overlooked gem, especially in what it explains about the history of Christianity Today magazine and his experiences launching and guiding it under Billy Graham’s direction. (It is my understanding that that book got very little attention and few readers. It deserved better.)

I especially enjoyed the following section of the review of Collins’ book:

Chapters three and four serve up, what might be judged as, “the main course” of the book. These chapters teach us how the aforementioned linguistic disciplines operate in biblical interpretation. Continuing to interact with Lewis while also engaging with various passages from across the spectrum of Scripture, Collins shows us the linguistic complexity behind the production of meaning in biblical texts and how sensitivity to linguistics enables better critical decisions about those meanings. The formula that equates “taking texts seriously” with “the plain sense” of the words, is overly simplistic. In fact, far too often, “that . . . equation (ironically) stands in the way of receiving the pragmatically plain sense of the biblical text” (p. 61).

@Greg, this relates well to a topic you often raise: the plain sense of the Genesis text. I hope you will consider that the “plain sense” gleaned from the average layperson’s reading of an English translation of Genesis may not at all be the same “plain sense” understood by a linguistically-savvy scholar reading the Hebrew text of Genesis. (The popular Reformation-based doctrine of the perspicuity of the scriptures could make a good topic for its own thread. In my experience, the people who most often raise perspicuity arguments tend to be unaware of the doctrine’s meaning and historical context.)

What evidence do you have for that claim?

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