“I do not think that means what you think it means.”
As we preach through Genesis at LifePoint, a main point of emphasis for us is allowing the Bible to speak for itself. This is a good discipline no matter what text of Scripture you are examining, but it’s not always easy. One of the crucial steps in this process is working hard to discover the original context, both in terms of the author and the original readers. We want to ask questions like “Who was the original author?” “What was the mindset of the original reader?” “For what purpose did this author write to these readers?” and “What was this text meant to accomplish and communicate in the context of those who originally received it?”
When asking questions like these concerning the first chapters of Genesis, we find that Moses was writing these chapters to the people of Israel, communicating about the origin of the universe, the creation of humanity, and God—the sovereign Creator of it all. These chapters should not be separated from the rest of Genesis, the Pentateuch, or the Old Testament. These chapters serve as the introduction to the whole narrative.
I think one of the issues for the 21st century reader is the temptation to ask questions of these texts that Moses clearly never intended to answer. The history of interpretation of Genesis 1-2 shows that readers in every century have struggled with this conundrum. As scientific discovery (read “theory”) develops, our viewpoint of the Bible’s origin narrative continues to morph. We read these chapters through progressively changing geological, genetic, and cosmological filters, but the text itself remains intact, still written by Moses at the outset of the Pentateuch to God’s covenant people. When we let Genesis speak for itself, without attempting to impose our culture’s ever-shifting scientific ideologies onto it, we find that the truth contained in this narrative is amazingly timeless.
This isn’t easy though, because this means that some of our questions will remain unanswered. Why? Simple answer: the Bible wasn’t written to communicate exhaustively concerning every issue.
Francis Schaeffer, in his book Genesis in Space and Time, differentiates between what he calls “true communication” and “exhaustive communication.”
What we claim as Christians is that, when all of the facts are taken into consideration, the Bible gives us true knowledge although not exhaustive knowledge. Man as a finite creature is incapable of handling exhaustive knowledge anyway…A Christian holding the strongest possible view of [biblical] inspiration still does not claim exhaustive knowledge on this point.
The Bible is a most efficient book. We must remember its purpose: It is God’s message to fallen men. The Old Testament gave men what they needed from the Fall till the first coming of Christ. The Old and New Testaments together give all that men need from the Fall until the second coming of Christ. Many other details which we need are also given, but the main purpose is kept central and uncluttered.
What the Bible tells us is propositional, factual and true truth, but what is given is in relation to men. It is a scientific textbook in the sense that where it touches the cosmos it is true, propositionally true…The Bible is not a scientific textbook if by that one means that its purpose is to give exhaustive truth or that scientific fact is its central theme and purpose…the whole of Scripture is revelational.
I think much of debate and hand-wringing would subside if we took into account what Schaeffer says in this final paragraph. The Bible is true truth, communicated by God to reveal Himself and His plan to humanity. The origin of the universe and the creation of humanity in His image are things God chooses to reveal to us through Genesis 1-2. He reveals it on his terms, and He leaves a few points unanswered. When we attempt to read back into the text our scientific presuppositions we would do well to examine the filter through which our questions develop. As we do this, I think more times than not we’ll hear the prophetic voice of Inigo Montoya cautioning us, “I do not think that means what you think it means.”
 Schaeffer, p. 35.
 Schaeffer, p. 36.