SPECIAL REPORT: Preaching Genesis 1-11
FORT WORTH—Southwestern Seminary professor Jason Lee urged pastors to let the texts of Scripture rather than apologetic issues drive their preaching, especially in regard to Genesis 1-11. Lee, who teaches hermeneutics at the seminary, explained that while pastors must address questions from doubters and skeptics, these issues must not obscure the authorial purpose of the passage.
“There is great apologetic value in defending the historicity of these narratives,” Lee said. “However, there is a subtle danger due to the level of interest in our congregations or even our own apologetic bent as preachers, that we would focus on the apologetic issues and therefore allow the text itself, and the author’s intention, to be eclipsed by our own purposes.
“As expository preachers, we need to make sure our chief focuses are the features of the inspired text and that the meaning expressed and the intention of the author is our interpretive goal and our proclamation foundation. That’s what we preach.”
Lee said answers to questions of historicity and other apologetic concerns often go unexpressed by the biblical authors and may extend beyond their intended meaning.
“The point here is that in the biblical text, there is no debate,” Lee said. “In the biblical text, the creation narratives, the Fall narrative, and the Flood narrative are all in (the genre of) historical narrative, and therefore, they’re presented as fact.”
Still, pastors must not avoid or dismiss opportunities to help their congregations with answering difficult questions and skepticism. Rather, with caution and precision, pastors should equip their people to defend and explain the Christian faith. Lee suggested giving some attention in a sermon to the most important apologetic issues and providing additional resources for church members with answers to further questions. The majority of the sermon, he said, should be centered on the message in the text.
Lee himself addressed some of the apologetic issues associated with the created order and sinful fall of humanity found in Genesis 2-3. With each question, he emphasized what the text says rather than where it remains silent. He addressed questions related to what kinds of trees the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were, where and how big the Garden of Eden was, and how the serpent could speak.
Lee demonstrated his views on the role of apologetics in preaching by spending the majority of his session discussing the theological implications and practical applications of Genesis 2-3. Hermeneutics, or the task of biblical interpretation, must serve as the foundation for biblical preaching, he said.
“Fundamental to good, expository homiletics is good, sound, biblical hermeneutics,” Lee said.
Lee likened the preacher’s task to crime scene investigation dramas on television, saying pastors must gather the textual clues within a passage and bring them back to the lab to see which clues are most helpful in determining meaning. This occurs at the macro and micro levels, viewing a passage from three vantage points.
The canonical vantage point examines how the passage fits within the Bible as a whole. The book and passage vantage points zoom in and view the context and specific textual features of a narrative. Lee applied all three vantage points to Genesis 1-11 and more specifically to chapters 2-3.
“From a canonical vantage point,” Lee said, “the text of Genesis 1-11 sets the foundation for God’s universal reign, his righteous judgment and his unique salvation,” themes which become intertwined throughout Scripture. More specifically in Genesis 2-3, God responds to sin by granting mercy even as he punishes.
With regard to the book vantage point, Lee said, “A biblical author’s intention is best seen on a book level. If I’m going to study a passage within the book, then I want to make sure I can clearly establish the context of this passage within the authorial purpose of the entire book.”
Lee said the narratives in Genesis 1-11, including the account of the Fall, must be viewed not only in the context of Genesis but also in the scope of the entire Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament.
At the passage level, the pastor considers grammar, syntax and vocabulary to discern textual meaning. Lee pointed to the repeated, three-part pattern found throughout the Pentateuch, which provides a grid for interpreting Genesis 2-3. The pattern consists of a narrative section followed by poetry and an epilogue. The poetic seams, he said, “provide a lens for reading the narrative” and “play a pivotal role in understanding the theological outlook of the chapters.” Epilogues indicate the results of the narrated events.
In analyzing the narrative sections, Lee said Genesis 2 presents a picture of God’s sovereign work in providing humans with a perfect place, a perfect plan and a perfect partnership. This provision becomes perverted in chapter 3 when Adam and Eve seek human wisdom over divine wisdom.
“The serpent makes a sinister suggestion in verses 4-5. He questions God’s justice and God’s goodness,” Lee said.
“The serpent now promises this kind of wisdom or knowledge to be a human quality without the need for God. God had been good in declaring what was good and not good to the humans, but to continue in this relationship required the humans to trust in God and not their own abilities.
Lee concluded with present-day applications and said four theological themes connect Adam and Eve with people today: “Their God is our God; their world is our world; their sin is our sin; and their Savior is our Savior.”
“Just as they were tempted to leave the sure provision of God for their own pursuits, so every sinner since them has struggled to determine his or her own path instead of solely trusting in the provision of the Lord.”
“The only lasting measure of hope granted to Adam and Eve is found in God’s pronouncement against the serpent in 3:15. All covering of sin is only temporary until God finally triumphs over evil though the seed promised to Eve.”
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