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Theology: “The Early Narratives of Genesis” by James Orr Essay


Professor James Orr’s exegesis

The first chapters are the ones that precede the times of Abraham. These chapters are unique in their own form. However, those books do carry with them the reflection of what later on happens in the bible. This is quite evident in the book of Exodus. The issues covered by the book of Genesis are pertinent to Orr’s expose.

The first major issue has to do with the creation story. This is actually the first account as postulated in the Book of Genesis. The first chapter acts as a very strong thesis statement of what will follow in the narrative. To make things sweeter, the chapter introduces creation: that there was nothing before other than the word, which in essence stood for God Himself. This is an account that has no match even in the most beautifully crafted literature. It is the mother of all introductions. It for instance gives an account of how the world came into existence. This account throws one into a deep sense of how he or she was created.

By this, everything in this account is fully drunken in. this very doctrine of creation solely assures many Christians of how they came to be. It shows that all creation is beholden to God. Without Him, we would not exist now. This does not, however, belong to human beings alone, but to all creatures, plants, and things that we can see or perceive. Orr poses the question of whether there would be anything in the universe that was crafted out of God’s creation account. This would be a curious situation. In fact, according to Orr, this would be a big cause for worry. We could be asking ourselves what the thing could be capable of. That is why the quoted verse: “My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth”, does not only comfort but also give great assurance that God is the supreme architect of the whole creation.

According to Orr, chapter two to four offers the very second narrative of creation. Many usually feel that it contradicts the first account. Its first words are “the day the Lord God made Earth and Heaven”. However, this is not so. Many think it is about the creation of heaven and earth that is why they say it contradicts the first account. But this is not so. According to a critic Mr. Dillmann the second narrative exclusively refers to the creation of the earth and heavenly bodies but with God’s relationship and essence for the human beings, who, we are told, was created in His own image. This is the point of view that should be assumed to clearly understand this account. That is why what moves one in this account is the story of temptation and damnation of man, as a result. This Fall of man perhaps gives an inkling of how everything else in the Bible flows.

The very Fall of a man at this stage goes to a greater extent to explain to us the state of affairs of the things that follow later on. For example, it aids perfect will and the consequences, coupled with later restitution. It actually makes the New Testament relevant to us as we see Jesus Christ die for our sins. The story of Cain and Abel provides a strong symbolism to this state of affairs. It forms an image that cannot be lost in the head of Christians who are getting initial exposure to the Bible. It is from such a background that we see the advent of reformation for example the holier line we seen in Seth.

Orr also grapples with the claim that the Israelites first set off without any knowledge of God. It is claimed some quarters that the religious history did not involve knowledge of God but other deities. Orr expunges this deduction. He says that such an unfortunate notion can be repudiated with facts that follow the succeeding chapters. He uses the example of Babylonia: its magnificent art, architecture, culture, etc. this account is provided even before the account of Abraham. Though many may think that it contradicts, Orr believes that this account even enhances what the Bible states. It corroborates it because it is in Babylonia that the Ark was built and rested. It is here that also the account of race distribution took place. Eden was also in Babylonia. By this, there is proof that the initial Biblical accounts are not only true but factual and accurate.

According to Orr much evidence found from Babylon actually corroborates what the Bible had clearly laid down. This can be seen through the Tower of Babel. For example, there were mixed people e.g. the Elamites, who were actually of Aryan origin. Their language was not Semitic but Aryan. In fact, in an excavation that was carried out by some French archeologists, it was found that bricks and many other remains showing that the people were of Semitic origin. So the story of the Tower of Babel is true that this was an area that was the birth to civilization but also the different races that fill the earth right now.

Orr further says that science should not be seen as contradicting the creation narrative, but as one that really assists it. For example, there are many who said that the Flood was impossible. But many over time, have not only provided that this is a greater possibility, but they have actually proved it. In conclusion, Orr says that the narrative of Creation coupled with the fall on man and even the Flood, among others are not just myths but true recordings of “real transactions”. It is against this awakening that the creation of Earth should not be seen as a myth but a true account of what actually transpired. He further goes ahead to caution many against viewing the language through which these crucial events were expressed: he says that the language was not scientific, but one inspired divinely. To further crown everything there is the unity of everything as expressed in revelation.

The Dilemmas of the Bible

Higgins has presented various theological dilemmas in his work. But first of all, he has gone to greater heights to explain what theological dilemma actually is. He says that a dilemma occurs when one is faced with the responsibility to make a choice between two desirable options. Faced with such a situation one relapses into the mental orgy weighing the advantages vis-à-vis disadvantages. He lists these dilemmas as the dilemma of salvation and Human Goodness, the dilemma of evil, the dilemma of Christianity and other world religions, the dilemma or dissent, the dilemma of Christian community and the world, the dilemma of Christian ethics, the dilemma of Christian commitment, the dilemma of faith and reason and finally the dilemma of continuity and change. All these points to the situation that many faces.

Higgins advises that such situations do occur and many a time, such issues of choice do bog down the mind of most believers. He further says that should one be faced with a situation, as is often the case, one tends to weigh the advantages of one and goes ahead to pick it. Usually, once one has picked one path, he or she ignores the drawbacks of the other. He says that one may perhaps reflect on the Bible or even Jesus. In such a case he prefers that one chooses or takes one position and leave the other. Higgins concludes that such reflection on such issues is what theology entails. Whenever there is a situation where there is a rejection of an alternative that would seem desirable, this amounts to a theological dilemma.

The dilemmas presented by Higgins are not in vain. They aid in strengthening Christian belief. He avers that such a reflection should not be a preserve of the theological or those with an advanced degree. Instead, he says that one becomes a better believer if he or she partakes of this reflection. Such a reflection goes further into deepening the theological understanding of the believer. In fact, Higgins concludes that the Christian community suffers a great deal as it has left such reflection to the clergy or the elite in society.

To see some of the benefits of this, let us look at the dilemma of Christology. Christology stands for “the study of Christ”. To this effect, there are two standpoints: one is that Christ was human while the other is that Christ was purely divine. Higgins that” low Christology will affirm the human nature of Christ while a higher Christology will put more emphasis on the divine nature of Christ. For instance, one would ask if Jesus knew that the earth was round. Those with low Christology will say that He did not know while those with high Christology will say otherwise. This is simply because those with low Christology usually or simply view Jews as one bequeathed with all human limitations.

This is so because at that time no human being had ever discovered that the earth was round. But those with high Christology will conclude that Jesus knew that it was round since he was gone God and God is all-knowing. This is why giving the former a verse to convince him or she will be a waste of time. Such would do better with the verse where Jesus is seen overturning tables in a temple out of indignation. This is a case where Jesus is reflected with all the human qualities as much as possible. But an account of Jesus walking on water could be a pipedream for such a person. Scripture has both Christology to satisfy the different views and perceptions of different people endowed with varying Christology. This makes one bond with the human Jesus who shares the same emotions, fears, pain, etc.

However, a low Christology is said to limit the uniqueness that Jesus had. In such a scenario, Jesus could easily be taken for any other philosopher like say Aristotle or even Plato.

For instance, if we say that Jesus is sinless, yet we assign him all the attributes of human nature, what is wrong with us asserting that Jesus was not sinless. But high Christology gives Jesus the elevation He deserves to show that he was unique and the true son of God. He was seen as one endowed with great wisdom and a true son of God. In fact, John’s gospel Jesus Happens to be that word that was with God at the time of creation. This seems to agree with what Orr said that all the evidence in the Bible is well corroborated. We now see the very issues recorded in the Old Testament is confirmed in the New Testament. In fact, the incarnation is seen when Jesus says in John 10:30 that” the Father and I are one”

I believe Higgins would have really resisted Orr’s rigid views. Higgins as we can see allows for accommodation of the skeptical views that many human beings have. He believes that it is through such that one can win souls, as long as one knows the level at which the person in doubt but we see Higgins asserting that sometimes allowing humans to think humanly goes to a large extent in concretizing the concept of belief, hence the need to remain neutral.

Did it happen? Is it True?

Richard Clifford takes a totally new perspective to chapter two to eleven of the Book of Genesis. He feels that these chapters are more of “traditional stories” rather than historical reports. This is unlike what Orr sees. Orr sees these chapters as ones that provide accurately recorded historical events. He even goes further ahead to prove some of the accounts historically. This is a major divergent view between the two.

Clifford says that it is wrong to use one single paradigm to measure the Bible. He says that is wrong to use one single paradigm since several accounts in the Bible are like the various genres. Some words stories are not to be taken at face value but should be taken with deeper meaning than they may be presented. Some, though, should just be read for what they are. He likens the Bible to a newspaper. For example, the newspaper has several articles that need to be read with different levels of intended interpretation. He says for instance it is not good to read a commentary article the way you would read a sports page. He advises that one must lay greater attention to the literary genre employed in that particular part of the Bible one is reading.

He feels that readers of the Bible usually forget these different genres that are used in the Bible and take a flat approach to everything. Even Pope Pius xii, according to Clifford, did advise the readers of the Bible to be wary of these different genres inherently used in the Bible. The pope observed that there was quite a variety of writing in the Bible that needed careful attention.

He further observed that most of the Bible authors preferred narrative as opposed to the analytical type of reasoning while presenting whatever they wanted in the Bible. He says that in Biblical culture “thinkers did their philosophy and theology through artful story telling”

Clifford says that issues such as the Flood, Tower of Babel, Adam and Eve, etc as presented in Genesis were just an artistic way through which the author wanted to show the there was a divine Being behind all creation. This is because many have come up with varied disturbing questions for example on whether the Flood did occur, whether Abraham did live on earth up to the age of 175 etc. Clifford unlike Orr uses the presence of flood stories in other folklore of Mesopotamia to dispute the notion that the biblical flood was a created story as the same story seems to appear in Sumerian folklore, the tale of Atrahasis, and even Tablet xi of Gilgamesh.

Clifford further singles out the issue of the Jesus resurrection as having been strengthened by the previous Elijah’s “assertion”. Elijah is said to have ascended in a whirlwind. God gave Elijah part of his powers. He says that there is a problem with the account of Jesus’ ascension. He says that to avoid this Luke preferred a nonhistorical way of presenting this. Clifford, this was done deliberately to convince believers who are deeply steeped in Biblical tradition to understand. He says Luke’s account in Acts 1:9-11 gives a totally different account.

Clifford concludes that historicity should not be equated to biblical truth. He feels that it is much more important for all the events presented in the Bible to be judged individually and on a case by case basis.

Another conclusion that Clifford advances is that it is quite important to confirm your audience or enlighten him or her about the types of genre you are presenting. Here one can see Clifford advancing the notion that maybe stories presented in the Book were just some of the folklore intended to pass the message about God’s purpose to the masses more effectively.

Finally, he says that it is the character of most sacred writers to employ analogies to pass what they are saying more effectively to their audience. I feel that even though this may be the case sometimes, it is not necessary always. Sometimes people use real accounts that are factual for purposes of persecution too. It is wrong to suggest that all analogies are fictional. This was also Orr blunders because according to him there is no such a possibility. He gives every story in the Bible historical significance. There is nowhere he has considered any story as an act of style to enhance meaning for effective communication.

Biblical Fundamentalism: what every Catholic should know

During the second Vatican council, it was impressed upon all the Catholics to make a deliberate move to rediscover the Bible. Though this call was crucial, lack of proper information has hampered this personal Biblical rediscovery. In this council, the Catholics were requested to look for better ways of interpreting the Bible. Perhaps this has been a big problem with many Christians. As we saw earlier, several different people have different standpoints. According to Orr for example, every story has a significant place in real life. He felt that every story in the Bible actually reflected what really happened. This is unlike what we see Clifford advancing. Clifford says that it is not just right to read the Bible with a fixed mind. He advises that it is important to note the different styles, the authors use to pass a cross a message. Father Witherup Ronald has offered some crucial guide that aims at aiding the Catholics when using the Bible. To achieve this he has given a detailed grounding for what entailed the setting of the Bible etc.


What all these writers say about understanding the Bible is pertinent. For it gives one the other side of looking at the Bible with a view to inferring the intended meaning. We have also learned that even though we may want to look at the authorship of the Bible with a human mind, it is also crucial to keep in mind that the Bible’s authorship was inspired. It can therefore be concluded that taking only one view towards understanding the Bible is not prudent. It is good to incorporate all the views of these theological scholars to get the intended message or purpose of the Bible for us.

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"Theology: "The Early Narratives of Genesis" by James Orr." IvyPanda, 27 Jan. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/theology-the-early-narratives-of-genesis-by-james-orr/.

1. IvyPanda. "Theology: "The Early Narratives of Genesis" by James Orr." January 27, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/theology-the-early-narratives-of-genesis-by-james-orr/.


IvyPanda. "Theology: "The Early Narratives of Genesis" by James Orr." January 27, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/theology-the-early-narratives-of-genesis-by-james-orr/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Theology: "The Early Narratives of Genesis" by James Orr." January 27, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/theology-the-early-narratives-of-genesis-by-james-orr/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Theology: "The Early Narratives of Genesis" by James Orr'. 27 January.

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