By Samuel M. Frost, Th.D.
I recently came across an article from the Heidelberg blog that supported an interpretative theory I am developing, and noted that this blog in particular is very “Reformed”, shall we say. It had to do with Eve in Genesis 4.1, and her declaration that she had given birth to ‘a man.’ Unusual to say the least, because there are a few terms for infants in Hebrew. No one gives birth to a mature man!
However, the article in question, written by T. David Gordon (here), even offers a translation quite different from the “standards.” I’ll let him speak for himself: “A “pre-observation” might also be made: RSV, ESV, NRSV, and NIV gratuitously add “the help of” in this verse, as though the word “help”/ezer—which Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18)—were present in the text, though it is not. They may also have judged that, otherwise, the passage expresses a near-intimacy between Eve and Yahweh: “I have gotten a man with the Lord,” which, of course, she did say. KJV is acceptable: “I have gotten a man from Yahweh” (without “help”). But the near-intimacy is, in some senses, the point of the passage; Eve hoped the “seed” promised by God she had “gotten” with or from God. If her language sounds eerily prescient of a virgin birth, so be it.”
The article itself is excellent, well documented and points out an issue I had not seen before. This is why I read so much, always knowing that I don’t see everything in a given text. My point here is that translations are often interpretations. I have no principled issue with this, either. Ancient Hebrew and Greek expressed itself in ways then that need to be fleshed out now in modern English. Some would call this method, ‘dynamic equivalence.’ We often hold our standard translations as on par with the actual meanings of the inspired authors. However, I was instructed that when doing the work of translation, have ten standard translations (at least) to work off of. Folks seem to get bent out of shape when writers give a translation (i.e, offer a proposed meaningful translation) that is not ‘exactly’ like their favorite.
On this point, all that matters is that one can show the work of why they are doing what they are. Gordon showed the work. ‘With the help of’ is not in the text. The birth of Cain, the ‘firstborn’, comes on the heels of the promise of a ‘seed’ (child) of the woman. Eve is ‘the woman.’ But, her ‘seed’ here is not the one who bruises the serpent’s head. Far from it. Cain is acting in accord with ‘sin’ who masters him (Gn 4.7). This is meant, then, to illustrate the nature of the promised ‘seed.’ Since we know that animals (called, the serpent) cannot mate with human beings, the ‘seed of the serpent’ would also be a human being – and this means we have entered into an invisible realm of ‘sin’ and its effects on the heart (see later in Gn 6.4-ff). Hence, Abel and Cain illustrate two kinds of seeds: one who operates in faith and obedience; the other who does not. This also means that this ‘serpent’ character is more than meets the eye, though not spelled out by name (we must dispel the notion of a snake in a tree talking to Eve).
My point in this is not to elaborate on the Genesis narrative, but to show that creative, interpretative ideas rooted in the syntax are often not born out in our translations (as great as they are). We have not plumbed all the nuances of meaning and textual structure in the Bible, and thus the charge of ‘novelty’ is false, because the Bible is old, not ‘new’ (‘novelty’ means ‘new’). In other words, the meaning is old – it’s what the author meant. This is why careful interpretation still yields the fruit of fresh understandings that may not have been seen before, or thoroughly studied: which is why continued research is paramount. We build on the past, all the while knowing that the past interpretations with either continued to be supported, or readjusted, or entirely chucked aside.
I have no issues with “traditions” being questioned. We know that our forefathers of the Reformation did just that. Yes, it opens a can of worms for every crackpot with a Bible to come up with some new idea, but it is not that we would then stifle a careful reader with a Bible, either. We affirm that a Bible should be in the hands of every believer. We do not affirm that ‘the authority’ alone ‘governs’ our conscience. The Bible is not the only authority, it is the ‘supreme’ authority. We start and build off of various authorities, as stated, and this will, oftentimes, bring us into conflict with a given “traditional interpretation.” So be it. It is this, or we would have to assume that every meaning already given in the last 1900 years has been exhausted; that there is nothing more to say on a subject, no better way to be seen (again, not brand new, but newly seen from an old text). The rigorous work has to be demonstrated, however (this tends to ward off the crackpots).
With this in mind, then, in my continued debate with Hyper Preterists, my contention with them is not that they have found something no one has seen before, for that is always a possibility in the world of hermeneutics explained above. It is that the work they are ‘showing’ contradicts the texts, and therefore suffers from internal conflict. I do not argue, at all, that ‘since the creeds have spoken, the matter is settled.’ Rather, I argue that their exegesis is incorrect, and that it is to be noted that tradition happens to agree with my assessment. Here, the Bible is the supreme authority, with the secondary authorities in tow.
But, we all know that this appeal does not ‘settle’ the debates, does it. We all claim, ‘the Bible says’. And, here, I can end this article by circling back to Genesis 3.2: ‘Did God say…’ What is it that God said, exactly? What verb did he use? What form of the verb? Did he use an adjective, an imperative? When did he say it? How did he say it? Did he accent the direct object, or was the verb used intransitively? There is much to be said here in that God has left us in this conversation, since we have no direct access to Moses, or Paul. Does this mean interpretation is hopelessly impossible? No. It does mean, however, that we are engaged in a quest for knowledge; God’s knowledge (which is what ‘theology’ attempts to show). It’s a dialogue with God’s Spirit, and with those who ‘call upon the name of the Lord,’ whoever they may be. Theology is an active pursuit, not static. It has a traditional-historical basis (we cannot ignore the past statements; we cannot ignore history) built into it. Paul passed on traditions – and this roots us in past expressions of the saints – but, at the same time, these saints are not the Apostles of our Foundation, the Church, and hence, unlike Paul, are subject to error. The tension between Tradition and Understanding that Tradition, Holding fast to that Tradition and developing fresh ways to get back to that original Tradition mark the enterprise of hermeneutics. For me, this requires broad reading (not just reading ‘our guys’, but ‘the other guys,’ too). It requires a far more ecumenical approach in our studies, and an occasional reaching across the aisle. You know, like Jesus told the Jews to love the Samaritans, because they may have some good insight you are going to miss because of your bias (do you think those large lexicons you read were written by conservative, Reformed, Bible-believing Christians? Think again). Since we already do this, and since the work of a theologian, or an exegete is already using source material from a wide swath of scholarship, then why do we hypocritically only flock with the birds of our feathers on appearance?
Saints, we are on this side of heaven; we are not in heaven, and heaven certainly has not come down to us – not yet. So, until then, all we have is each other, our books, and the added bonus, the superior bonus, of the conviction of the Holy Spirit in our studies; our ‘conscience’ as Paul called it. Yet, if we believe in progressive sanctification, and it is through the true knowledge of the Spirit by which sanctification comes, then our conscience should mature (this is called, ‘wisdom’). There are some things with me that are concrete; blocks of cement that will not ever be replaced; statements of Faith that cannot be assailed. But, there are other aspects of my own inferior being that I am willing and open to be corrected; corrected by brothers and sisters who confess: Jesus of Nazareth is Lord. God raised him from the dead. He is currently, body and soul, at the right hand of God, in heaven, and he shall descend from heaven and raise the dead and restore all things.