Interpretation of the Genesis Account of Creation and the Flood

5.1 Some Exegetical Considerations

The systematic interpretation of the Old Testament can be traced all the way back to the earlier rabbinic rules of Hillel, one of the leading rabbis in the intertestamental period. He emphasized surrounding circumstances as a qualification for interpreting the Old Testament. He also stressed logical procedures in classifying the topical discussions of the Bible and setting up exegetical rules (1).

During the first century Greek influence was felt in Alexandrian Judaism in the form of allegorism. In this system a text is interpreted apart from its grammatical and historical meaning to reflect the thinking of the interpreter. Philo championed the allegorical method by ignoring the literal meaning of the Bible. He attempted by allegorical interpretation to reveal the presence of Greek philosophical ideas, such as Neoplatonism, that he saw in the Pentateuch.

The Alexandrian school of allegorism was matched by the Antiochian school of literal interpretation from the second to the fourth centuries. However, because of the theological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries some members of the Antiochian school were accused of being heretics, and the school began to lose influence. It was further weakened by the later split of the church into the Eastern and Western segments. Therefore, allegorism became the dominant view of biblical hermeneutics for over a millennium.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) stressed the primary importance of the literal interpretation while maintaining at the same time the legitimacy of allegorization. He said, "The literal sense is that which the author intends, [241] but God being the Author we may expect to find in Scripture a wealth of meaning" (2). Therefore, although he did take a step forward in the right direction, he did not rid the church of allegorism.

It was not until the Reformation, when the Bible came to be the supreme and sole authority, that the modern Protestant hermeneutical system came into being. In the Council of Trent held between 1545 and 1563, the Roman church issued a list of decrees setting forth the Catholic dogmas and canons anathematizing Protestants. Protestants replied categorically by drawing up creeds and theological systems in an effort to consolidate their biblical data. This led to great strides being made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to determine the original text of the Bible. Grammars and lexicons of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek began to circulate. Historical backgrounds of biblical accounts came to the attention of biblical scholars. They started to study the Bible textually, linguistically, historically, and literarily, bringing in new dimensions of biblical hermeneutics.

Eighteenth-century rationalism gave impetus to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. However, the extreme rationalistic emphasis led to preoccupation with historical higher criticism of the Bible and the elimination of the supernatural and miraculous elements from the Scriptures. The rationalists stripped the "historical" Jesus of all "irrational" elements, and He became no more than an ethical teacher. This required a naive dismissal of large sections of the Gospels.

In the twentieth century, a renewed interest among progressive theologians has been sparked in the quest for the historical Jesus. The traditional orthodox biblical interpreters who adhere to the Reformers' convictions of the inspiration and the authority of the Bible have emerged once again as major contending voices in biblical scholarship. This has been accompanied by a renewed interest in studying the Bible (3).

References 5.1

1. Blackman, A. C. Biblical interpretation. Philadelphia: Westminster; 1957.
2. Cited by Mickelsen, A. B. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1963: 37.
3. Mickelsen, A. B. Interpreting the Bible. 20-53.