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Products>Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11

Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11

, 2018
ISBN: 9780310598602

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What does it mean to be a good reader of Genesis 1-11? What does it mean to take these ancient stories seriously and how does that relate to taking them literally? Can we even take any of this material seriously?

Reading Genesis Well answers these questions and more, promoting a responsible conversation about how science and biblical faith relate by developing a rigorous approach to interpreting the Bible, especially those texts that come into play in science and faith discussions. This unique approach connects the ancient writings of Genesis 1-11 with modern science in an honest and informed way.

Old Testament scholar C. John Collins appropriates literary and linguistic insights from C. S. Lewis and builds on them using ideas from modern linguistics, such as lexical semantics, discourse analysis, and sociolinguistics. This study helps readers to evaluate to what extent it is proper to say that the Bible writers held a “primitive” picture of the world, and what function their portrayal of the world and its contents had in shaping the community.

Resource Experts
  • Develops a linguistic-rhetorical-literary approach
  • Examines the interpretive approach of C. S. Lewis
  • Analyzes major contributions to the interpretation of Genesis
  • Introduction
  • What Is Happening in Literary Communication?
  • Types of Language and Biblical Interpretation
  • Good-Faith Communication: What Does It Mean to Speak Truly?
  • What Do We Have in Genesis 1–11? Part 1: Context
  • What Do We Have in Genesis 1–11? Part 2: Function
  • Genesis 1–11: A Rhetorical-Theological Reading
  • What Other Readers Have Seen in Genesis 1–11
  • Genesis 1–11: World Picture and Worldview
  • The Place for Conflict: Divine Action in Genesis 1–11
  • Genesis 1–11: A Humane Moral Vision for Israel and the World

Top Highlights

“the overall trend downward in total lifespan (which perhaps signals the decline from man’s pristine condition)” (Page 183)

“One’s view of the biblical texts depends on one’s interpretive approach—and generally the interpretive approach is assumed rather than warranted.” (Page 17)

“Hence, I will argue for the critical use of a disciplined imagination.” (Page 32)

“As to the skeptic, I have argued that Genesis accepts a basic structure of events and then narrates them in what its author considered the right way, in order to correct the audience’s perceptions of those events.” (Page 119)

“Applying this assessment, we recognize that in Genesis 1–11 we do not have even an attempt at a scientific account; it is not even what some call ‘ancient science.’” (Page 152)

In the beginning and throughout the process of reading, there is interpretation. This is true of all books but especially of the Bible. The peoples of the earth have for centuries been reading Genesis according to their own hermeneutical kinds. And God saw that it was not always good. I therefore thank God for Jack Collins’s masterful guide to reading Scripture’s good-faith communication in good faith, with literary sensitivity, an ear to the history of interpretation, and an eye on the present scientific context. Reading Genesis Well lives up to its title and then some. The first third treats biblical interpretation in general and is itself worth the price of the book. The rest of the book puts his reading strategy to work. He builds on C. S. Lewis’s critical and imaginative approach to reading then offers a contextually sensitive account of just what the author of Genesis is saying and doing in chapters 1–11. It’s important for reading the rest of Scripture to get the beginning right, and Collins here provides the resources for doing just that.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Jack Collins provides the kind of work on Genesis 1–11 we need today: a careful, balanced analysis that will guide readers of good will to greater understanding. Collins cuts through liberal and conservative rhetorical politics to help readers see what is really in this great summative passage.

Paul House, Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

Anyone struggling to relate Genesis 1–11 to modern knowledge should welcome Collins’s work. His literary, rhetorical, and theological analysis breaks the bonds of literalism that bind many scholars and fundamentalists, showing how the text ‘gives the faithful the divinely approved way of picturing the events and that there are actual events that the pictures refer to.’ His approach, indebted to C. S. Lewis, allows modern readers to appreciate the familiar ancient stories more richly—to read them well!

—Alan Millard, Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew & Ancient Semitic Languages, The University of Liverpoo

C. John Collins (PhD, University of Liverpool) is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary. Chair of the Old Testament translation committee for the English Standard Version, he is the author of Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary; The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World; Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? and Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care.


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  1. Adrian Bouknight
  2. Glenn Crouch

    Glenn Crouch


    I have enjoyed the other books that Collins has written, so I was keen to get into this latest one - and I wasn't disappointed. I must admit I didn't read the synopsis all that closely prior to purchase, rather I was eager to get into his latest work - thus I was taken by surprise the significant role that C.S. Lewis takes in this book - and not the Lewis of Narnia nor of Mere Christianity, rather the Scholarly Lewis of Medieval and English Literature. Collins takes Lewis' approach to Literature and applies it to a responsible hermeneutical approach to Scripture - and in particular to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I did find the book a little slow going to begin with as the first 4 chapters is setting the ground-work for the approach that Collins is proposing - but once he starts applying his approach, then this is the Collins I have enjoyed in his other works. I do like his approach to History, Poetry and Science when it comes to Scripture - and whilst I need to still give it much thought, I think he is on the right track. As someone who is both an Engineer and a noted Hebrew scholar, Collins has good experience in many fields, and that does come across. I especially appreciated his argument against making a person's stand on Origins being purely two dimensions - as in where do you fit on the Scale between Atheistic Evolution through to Young Earth Creationist. As he points out Aristotle was a Naturalist who argued against macro evolution, and that trying to place Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, etc on this linear scale doesn't work either. Rather that their are more dimensions - and he notes correctly that it is similar with our politics (and I would argue our theology). Anyway, I enjoyed this book and have much to think about - what more can you ask for :)