Why you don’t really read the Bible literally; the cosmic dome and contextualization

This picture of the cosmic dome is the quickest, most graphic way I know of challenging some common assumptions about the Bible and how God reveals himself. It might be a good place to begin a hermeneutics course.

Is this the view of the world that you hold? Do you believe that there is a roof on the sky with “floodgates” holding back the upper waters? This is the assumed view of the Genesis and most of the Old Testament. (Read Genesis 1 again with this picture in view; or Gen. 7:11.) Either you need to hold this view of the world (cosmology), or you need to rethink some of your assumptions about the Bible and the way (how) God has spoken through it and inspired it.

This isn’t a problem for God; after all, He inspired this version of the creation story, and He certainly knows what the real universe looks like. It is not a mistake or an error; it’s our problem – a problem of priority and criteria. We obviously bring some other presuppositions to the discussion. In the Bible, God communicated in a way generally understood within the worldview of the people of that time. (Translators from radically different cultural contexts understand this process.)

The Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, but don’t pretend that this means you are taking it at “face-value” – in some simplistic “literal” way; it’s a little more complicated than that. God and the Bible are bigger than that, and God has always communicated in ways that resonate with different contexts and cultures – right from Genesis 1. He is a contextualizing God.

The next time you want to say, “I prefer a more literal reading of Genesis 1”, think about the cosmic dome. Happy thinking. 😉

Original source (in case you can’t read the subtitle: Alan P. Dickin, On a Farawy Day . . .: A New View of Genesis in Ancient Mesopotamia (Colubus, GA: Brentwood Christian, 2002), p. 122. Reprinted in Peter Enns, Inspiration & Incarnation (a very worthy read.)

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2 thoughts on “Why you don’t really read the Bible literally; the cosmic dome and contextualization

  1. Ben M says:

    There’s a great presentation by John Walton, OT prof at Wheaton College on interpreting Genesis 1:

    http://www.wheaton.edu/physics/research/symposia/conferences03/Sci_Sym.html

    Click on John Walton’s photo on the bottom left of the webpage to see his slides and hear his presentation.

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks, Ben.

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