Ham-Handed Hermeneutics VIII: The Hexæmeron of Basil of Cæsarea – Preface

IN his Hexæmeron, a Lenten series of homilies on the six days of creation, Basil of Caesarea provides us with his interpretation of Genesis 1. In contrast to the default practice of reading Genesis 1 metaphorically or allegorically, Basil insists upon a literal reading of Genesis 1.

As I am writing this series of posts, in the season of Lent, I plan to proceed by giving each Homily its own separate post. Hopefully, at the end of this series, I will be able to write a post summarizing the Hexameron as a whole and its relation to modern YECism. So, what you will see in this series of posts is my own grappling with Basil’s exegesis of Genesis 1 as kind of a running but far from exhaustive commentary.

You can find the full text of Basil’s Hexameron and other extant writings of the Church Fathers on CCEL.org.

Because of Basil’s insistence on a literal reading and explicit rejection of allegorical interpretations, in the Hexameron, Basil gives us an interpretation of Genesis 1 that at first glance bears arguably the closest resemblance to the interpretive practices of those in the modern YEC movement. However, a careful reading of the Hexameron also highlights a significant problem with this method of interpretation. For, as Ken Ham reads elements of today’s science into the gaps of the early chapters of Genesis (i.e. the perfect human genome), Basil also shares the tendency to read the “science of the day”  or the natural history of his day into the text (i.e. the elements fire, air, water, earth). Nevertheless, in striking contrast to modern YECists, in general, and Answers in Genesis, in particular, Basil demonstrates both a learned knowledge of the “science” of his day and embraces much of it. Like Augustine before him and Aquinas after him and unlike Ken Ham, Basil assumes that unaided human reason can bring even the disciplined pagan thinker a long way toward understanding God’s creation.

Indeed, the regular disparagement of so-called “secular” human reason by Ken Ham is yet another way in which Ham and his followers part company with traditional Christian thought. (See my recent Heresy is the New Orthodoxy series for other examples.)

Further Reading: Joel Anderson’s The Heresy of Ham available on Amazon.

For me, this easy dismissal of human reason engenders more theological problems for Ham and his followers that call for further reflection. For instance, doesn’t Ham’s easy dismissal of the ability of human reason and the ability of the average human being to understand God’s creation undermine the doctrine of general revelation? Also, doesn’t this easy dismissal of natural human reason undermine the traditional Christian teaching and key distinguishing feature between humankind and animal kind namely that human beings are distinct because they are animals who informed by a rationa soul?

On this question, throughout much of Christian history, it was assumed that being or having a rational soul was the feature that distinguished us from the rest of the visible creatures and was at times and by many taken to be “the image of God in man.” So, it seems especially odd for Ham to so frequently disparage and call into question natural human reason since one of his worries about evolutionary theory is precisely that it blurs the line between humankind and animal kind.

As I think about this I begin to wonder if the only distinguishing feature that is left to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is our ability to sin. Their thought increasing moves in the direction of the early gnostic Christians as the God they serve seems to have little relation to this world and seeks only to rescue us from it. As Marcion leapt from “creation” to Jesus skipping the history of Israel, so does Ken Ham. I’m just sayin’. . .

 

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If Israel is here at all, then it is problematically captured under the heading of “confusion”. This eliding of Israel is troubling for many reasons and not only because it elides the bulk of the Old Testament i.e. Genesis 12 thru Malachi.

IWP March 26, 2017

Related Posts: Ham-Handed Hermeneutics: The Church Fathers on Genesis 1-3

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