How to read Genesis 1—3

I wanted to highlight just a couple of pitfalls to avoid when reading Genesis 1—3.

  1. Genesis 1 is all about proper division and separation (pushing back the forces of chaos). However, that division language should not be confused with binary ontological categories. For instance, there is separation between light and darkness. But that does not mean that dusk and dawn are understood as aberrations against God's will. There are distinctions between animals of the air, land, and sea. But that doesn't mean that amphibians or flying reptiles are rebelling against God's will. There is male and female—does it, therefore, follow that non-binary or intersex people are signs of a fallen creation? No, that doesn't logically follow from the text.

2. It's important not to squeeze a text for information it wasn't intended to give. For instance, Genesis 2:24 (therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife) should not be read as a condemnation of singleness. It gives information on the marriage relationships that were known to those people in that day. Why, then, should we read it as a condemnation of same-sex relationships?

3. Scripture should not be read as "If this one particular thing is affirmed, therefore all unmentioned things must be unaffirmed." Imagine if someone read Matthew 18:21-22 ("How many times should I forgive my brother...seventy times") and then declared, "Therefore forgiving sisters is immoral and unbiblical." No, we understand Matthew 18:21-22 to be paradigmatic of the larger moral ethic of forgiveness; not a restriction on who can forgive who. Exodus 23:4 gives instructions on returning a lost ox or donkey to a neighbor. It would be wrong to then conclude, "But if it's a lost goat, then you are free to do with it whatever you want." No, Exodus 23 gives the Israelites wisdom about all sorts of situations. Similarly, it would be wrong to read, "For this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife..." and conclude, "Therefore, a woman who clings to her wife is immoral and unbiblical."

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC