The Old Testament represents humanity’s best effort to record the actions and revelations of God to his chosen people, Israel, from the beginning of time to the birth of Jesus. Through careful reading and study, Christians come to a more complete understanding of God, the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As the soil in which the Christian faith is rooted, the Old Testament brings closer to Jesus as we are united with the people of ancient Israel.
First and foremost, the Old Testament is about God: who he is, what he does, and why he does it. It is the testament of God’s faithfulness and care of his chosen people. The story of God, of course, begins in the Book of Genesis with the primeval history of the world. Genesis 1-11 represents Israel’s understanding of the world as they knew it. Although the ancients did not possess the level of scientific knowledge that we in the modern world have, they found themselves pondering the universe and God’s creation and humanity’s place in this God-created world.
These primeval events include: Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel, followed by the genealogy from Noah to Abram. This primeval history sets the stage for the selection of Abram to be the father of the nation of Israel and are key to understanding the Bible in its entirety – the Old Testament and the New Testament. This small portion of Scripture reveals God to us. God is the creator of all things, including humans. Created in his image, our lack of trust in him provides the opening Satan needs to bring sin into God’s perfect creation. But God remains our loving Father, merciful and just. It is in these first eleven chapters of the Bible that God begins to reveal his plan for reconciliation.
Just how then are we to understand Genesis as primeval history? Borrowing from the wealth of cultural traditions of the people of the nations around them, the Israelites orally passed down stories from generation to generation that held significance to them as a nation. This explains why historians and anthropologists can, without diminishing the importance of the events in the life of Israel, draw comparisons between the events recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis with the creation and flood accounts found in the literary histories of other cultures. This is not to say that the Israelites simply borrowed the oral traditions of neighboring cultures. Instead, the people of Yahweh took some of the stories that they heard and interpreted them in light of the one true God they had come to know.
Even with limited knowledge of the science we take for granted, the Israelites understood all of creation to be the design of God. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain their interpretation of the events of primeval history. Having this insight into the context in which the Israelites understood primeval history allows the modern reader, who possesses a greater scientific understanding of the universe, to read the events recorded in a different light: we are now free to explore the meaning of God’s creative action with the constraints imposed by science as we know it.
One final note: My personal theology and understanding of Biblical interpretation has been predominantly formed through my years of participation in the life and witness of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Congregation and the ELCA Candidacy process for Associate in Ministry. I understand that Lutherans understand and interpret Scripture on a wide spectrum from allowing for no historical, cultural, or literary criticism to “anything goes.” Some Lutherans claim the Bible to be the inerrant and inspired Word of God while others leave out the inerrant in favor of inspired Word of God. That being said, on some issues I am on the conservative side and others are more centrist. I do not consider myself a liberal on any theological issue.
Speaking from my heart,